O.J. Simpson is about to be a free man once again.
Simpson has been granted parole by a unanimous vote the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners, and is eligible to walk out the gates of Lovelock Correctional Facility by Oct. 1 of this year. Simpson had been found not guilty of the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1995, and the attention surrounding this parole hearing echoed the frenzy that surrounded that mid-‘90s cultural touchstone.
During the course of the six-minute invasion, Simpson ordered his associates to prevent anyone from leaving the room while another man brandished a gun. That was enough to get Simpson hit with both kidnapping and weapons charges in addition to assault and robbery, for a total of 12 counts. A Nevada judge sentenced Simpson to nine to 33 years in prison.
Parole hearings in Nevada require the inmate to meet a range of conditions for behavior both prior to incarceration and while in prison. Inmates are scored according to their actions and their likelihood for backsliding once released. The lower the score, the better the news for the inmate.
Simpson had sought, and received, parole for the weapons charges in 2013. Thursday’s format was similar: a meeting with the board members, via video conference, at which Simpson, gray-haired but looking far more slim and fit than he had in his previous hearing, offered up a defense of himself over the course of a 75-minute hearing that veered from defensive to casual, but rarely contrite.
A few highlights from the hearing:
• Connie Bisbee, chairman of the board, began the hearing with some light humor, noting that this hearing was far more crowded than any other in memory. Bisbee initially misidentified Simpson as 90 years old, leading to tension-breaking laughter. (That wasn’t the only curious aspect of the hearing; Commissioner Adam Endel wore a Kansas City Chiefs tie, an interesting choice given Simpson’s previous occupation.)
• In response to a question about why he committed the robbery, Simpson noted that much of the memorabilia that was at the center of the robbery wasn’t simply devoted to his on-field activities, but also included family albums and other photographs with personal value.
“These were friends of mine,” he said of the men holding the memorabilia, “men who helped me move and store this stuff.” Simpson then walked through the robbery, noting that he entered the Las Vegas hotel room containing the memorabilia because one of his associates had a key, and that Simpson only wanted what he said was his own property, not any of the other material in the room. Simpson appeared to be re-litigating his case, seeking to clarify, and justify, his own perspective on the robbery.
“Nobody’s ever accused me of pulling a weapon on them,” Simpson said, a statement thatdrew much reaction. “I wasn’t trying to steal from anybody, and I would never pull a weapon on anybody.”
• When asked how he’d changed in prison, Simpson indicated that he had taken courses on reducing violence in confrontations. He added that he has mediated many disputes in the prison by using nonviolent techniques, and said he helped create a Baptist service in the prison.
“I was always a good guy,” Simpson said, “but I could have been a better Christian. And my commitment was to become a better Christian.”
• Simpson also seemed to talk his way into blind alleys, the most curious of which was his contention that “I believe I’ve led a conflict-free life.” That’s at sharp odds with accounts reported throughout the 1995 trial, as well as the robbery itself and the fact that he actually has a fairly lengthy rap sheet.
• Alcohol was apparently a factor in the initial crime, and Simpson said in his 2013 hearing that he would seek treatment for alcohol. But on Thursday, Simpson said he’d never enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar program, indicating he did not believe he had a substance-abuse issue. He reiterated his belief that his work in nonviolent conflict resolution was the most important change he could have undergone.
• Attorneys observing the Simpson case have indicated that he needed to show remorse, and in response to a question by Commissioner Susan Jackson, attempted to walk back some of his earlier defensiveness. “If I would have made a better judgment back then, none of this would have happened,” Simpson said. “I take full responsibility. I haven’t made any excuses in nine years here.”
• Commissioner Erdel noted that Simpson’s notoriety could pose additional problems for him going forward, given that he will need to meet stringent post-parole behavior guidelines. “I’ve been getting recognized since I was 19,” Simpson said. “I’m pretty easily approachable. I don’t see that being a problem at all.”
• Simpson’s daughter Arnelle testified on behalf of her father, calling him “my best friend and my rock.” She contended that he had been a “perfect inmate” while in prison for the last nine years.
“We just want him to come home,” she added. “I know that he has been humbled by this situation.”
• Malcolm LaVergne, Simpson’s attorney, indicated that one of the men whom Simpson robbed had made amends with Simpson several years before passing away in November 2015. However, LaVergne indicated that some of the memorabilia in question has been lost, its current whereabouts unknown.
• Bruce Fromong, a longtime Simpson friend and another one of the victims, indicated that he believed Simpson was “misguided” on the day of the robbery, that he was misled as to the extent of the memorabilia that was present in the hotel room. “A lot of things happened really quickly [during the robbery],” said Fromong, who was wearing a “Heisman” golf shirt. “If OJ had just said, ‘Everybody out of here, me and Bruce need to talk,’ none of this would have happened. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”
“I have been here for nine years, and I have not made any excuses,” Simpson said in closing. “I am sorry things turned out the way they did. I had no intent to commit a crime … I said I would not be a problem [at the prison], and I believe I have kept my word.”
In order to win parole, Simpson needed a majority of the four commissioners to vote in his favor. Had the commissioners split, they would have needed to bring in the two other members of the board who were not present at the hearing. Had the board split 3-3, Simpson would have had to wait until at least January 2018 for a new hearing. Had Simpson lost his appeal, he would have had to wait one to three years for a new one.
Simpson’s future now is unclear. “I could stay in Nevada,” Simpson joked during the hearing, “but I don’t think you want me here.” The parole board made certain that Simpson understood that he must still live under conditions set down by Nevada state authorities, or risk a return to prison.
He’s indicated that he plans to live in Florida, and has told friends that he wants to live a quiet life, spending his days around family and playing golf. But the reality is that the 70-year-old Simpson won’t ever be able to live that quiet life. The Simpson trial helped tabloid culture in America level up — the Kardashian empire is a direct result of that era — and even now, interest in Simpson’s life and history remains high. Two separate television programs — one a dramatization, another an Oscar-winning documentary — have aired in the last year.
Simpson still faces the legal recriminations of a civil judgment against him. After Simpson walked on criminal charges in the double murder, the Goldman family filed a civil suit against him, and that case— in which the burden of proof is lower than a criminal trial — resulted in a $33.5 million judgment against Simpson. It’s unclear whether he’s paid anything toward that judgment—Simpson has a pension and other investments which the judgment can’t touch—but future earnings would be subject to seizure to meet that debt.
Simpson remains one of the most notorious celebrities in American history, and he hasn’t been a free man in the social media era. He’ll likely be the subject of selfies, tweets, Snaps, and Instagram photos every time he walks out in public. Regardless, the options for Simpson are wide open in a way they weren’t just a few hours ago.