After nearly nine years in prison, O.J. Simpson was granted his freedom Thursday by four members of the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners and will leave prison on or after Oct. 1.
The Hall of Famer reacted emotionally and with a smile as each of the four delivered their votes on whether he should be freed after serving nearly nine years of a nine-to-33-year sentence for 12 convictions, including kidnapping and armed robbery, stemming from a 2007 sting operation in which he tried to recover sports memorabilia from two collectors.
Simpson mouthed the words “thank you” as he stood and returned to his cell, where he will remain until fall.
An apologetic Simpson, who has not been publicly seen since being granted parole in a 2013 hearing on lesser charges, appeared far slimmer and more fit than he did then, wearing dark slacks and a blue button-up shirt over a white T-shirt. Simpson cracked up when he was initially told that his hearing is the same that all inmates receive, despite the media attention this hearing is attracting. Unexpected levity followed when a commissioner listed his age as 90, rather than 70. “You look great for 90!” she said.
Simpson faced four members of the board — two women and two men, one of whom was rather curiously wearing a Kansas City Chiefs tie.
Offered the chance to make a statement, Simpson apologized. “I’ve come here and spent nine years making no excuses about anything. I am sorry things turned out the way they did. … I tell inmates all the time ‘Don’t complain about your grind. Do your time.’ … I believe in the jury system. I will honor the decision. … I have done my time and I’d like to get back to my friends. And believe it or not I do have some friends. I don’t think anyone could have honored this institution better. … I’m sorry it happened.”
The media scrutiny in the hearing is less intense than it was for the 1995 murder trial in which he was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole, and Ron Goldman, but the possibility that the Hall of Fame running back and former actor soon will be free again has drawn massive attention, including live coverage on multiple networks and platforms.
Four members of the board in the Carson City, Nev., Probation and Parole Division office heard Simpson’s case with Simpson, inmate No. 1027820, remaining, as he has for almost nine years, in the medium-security Lovelock Correctional Center about 100 miles away. In addition to his lawyer, Malcolm LaVergne, his elder daughter, Arnelle, attended the hearing, along with his sister, Shirley Baker, and his friend Tom Scotto. Bruce Fromong, who described himself as a friend of 27 years, was one of the victims of the crime and read a statement on Simpson’s behalf, “time for him to go home for his family and friends.”
“I’m at a point in my life where all I want to do is spend as much time as I can with my children and my friends,” Simpson said at one point. “I’ve done my time and I’ve done it was well and respectfully as I can. … I’ve honored their verdict and not complained for nine years.”
Simpson added that he has been “under scrutiny since I was 19 years old.”
Commissioners were largely deferential and there was more levity than might have been expected. Asked about going to Florida if he were released, Simpson responded to laughs, “I could stay in Nevada, but I don’t think you guys want me here.” The commissioner’s response? “No comment, sir.”
Under questioning about the sting incident that resulted in his incarceration, Simpson stressed that the men he was with were armed and that he was not. Simpson also stated that he had taken a course during his time in prison on “alternatives to violence” and told one commissioner that he had been “asked many times to mediate” situations involving his fellow inmates. In the 2013 hearing, Simpson said he would attend Alcoholics Anonymous classes, but said that he did not because “I’ve never had an alcohol problem.” However, he admitted that he had had drinks the day of the sting because he had attended a wedding.
As for his life in prison, Simpson said he had been commissioner of the softball league, which required frequent resolution of anger issues among players, and that he had taken computer training “so that I can better communicate with my children.” Later, his lawyer read a letter saying that Simpson could have “a webcast or blog in my future,” a statement that drew titters.
Stressing that he had missed 36 birthdays among his four children, Simpson added that he had been focused on raising his kids before he was arrested. “I had some problems with fidelity in my life but pretty much got along with everybody.”
Simpson’s daughter, “the eldest of four,” tearfully described the last nine years as an “ordeal.” “My experience is that he’s like my best friend and my rock. As a family, we recognize that he is not a perfect man but has done his best to be true to his character. … The choices he made nine years ago were clearly wrong and … counterproductive. … My dad recognizes that he took the wrong approach and could have handled the situation differently. …
“We just want him to come home and I know in my heart that he is very humbled.”
Simpson, who turned 70 earlier this month, last spoke publicly during a brief 2013 hearing in which he was paroled on several of the lesser charges against him. At that time, he apologized and offered an explanation for his actions. “My crime was trying to retrieve for my family my own property,” he said. “Make no mistake, I would give it all back to get these last five years back.”
Testimony in these hearings is limited to the inmate, a representative of his, victims of the crime (or their direct family members) and one family member or supporter. The board will consider a pre-sentence investigation, a parole hearing report, a risk assessment and letters of support or opposition. It is not expected that victims or prosecutors would protest his parole. The board typically weighs a points system that considers, among other things, criminal history, age and gender, history of alcohol and/or drug abuse, and behavior as an inmate. Commissioners are not limited to just considering the points system, though.
After the hearing, members of the board deliberate privately and vote. After that, according to the Nevada parole board website, the public hearing will resume and each member will vote on the record. “A majority of four of the seven members of the Board is required to reach a decision to grant or deny parole. The panel for this hearing consists of four members which constitutes a majority of the Board,” the site says. That means that all four present must be in agreement. “If the panel is unanimous in its decision, it will become the decision of the Board and no additional voting is necessary. If the panel is not unanimous, additional board members will be immediately contacted to review the case and vote until there are four votes to grant or deny parole.”
(The seventh commissioner will not be seated until after the Simpson hearing, so it is conceivable that the board could end up deadlocked at 3-3. That would result in another hearing in six months.)
In a 2013 hearing that lasted 15 minutes, Simpson was granted parole for some of the lesser counts on which he was convicted. That time, the panel consisted of two board members who deliberated and gave their recommendation to the full seven-member board. After about two weeks, the decision was handed down. This time, because the board wants to minimize the media circus and return to its work as quickly as possible, four board members will be present.
With parole granted, Simpson will be freed “on or after Oct. 1.”