OJ Simpson, the former NFL star famously acquitted of murder, was granted parole on Thursday and is expected to walk free in October after being jailed nine years for a botched robbery attempt.
“I am sorry the things turned out the way they did,” Simpson, 70, said in videoconference with the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners. “I had no intention to commit a crime.”
Four commissioners voted unanimously to grant Simpson parole after a nearly ninety-minute hearing.
Simpson smiled as the four commissioners announced their ruling one by one; he bowed multiple times after the 4-0 decision was announced.
As he left the courtroom, he thanked the people around him and put his hand to his heart before clasping his hands together while bowing slightly towards the commissioners.
“It was a serious crime and there was no excuse for it,” said commissioner Tony Corda, but he said he reached the decision because Simpson was at “low risk to reoffend” and had served enough prison time in the case.
Simpson was convicted of robbery, kidnapping and assault charges in October 2008 after a bizarre incident in which he, with armed men, attempted to retrieve sports memorabilia he said belonged to him from a Las Vegas hotel room.
Simpson has served the minimum nine years of his 33-year sentence for the robbery and could be released as early as 1 October, which is guaranteed to spark a media frenzy.
Parole commissioners questioned Simpson from the state capital, Carson City, and he responded via videoconference from the Lovelock correctional center, more than 100 miles away.
Simpson’s hearing was broadcast live on television, an echo of the so-called Trial of the Century in 1995, when Simpson was tried, and acquitted, in the murder of of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.
On Thursday, Simpson was jovial and occasionally combative with the commissioners as he answered questions about the robbery, reiterating his position that he was simply trying to retrieve his possessions.
“I’m not a guy who has conflicts on the street,” Simpson said. “I’m a guy who’s got along with just about everybody.”
When asked how he would handle public scrutiny, Simpson responded that he had been used to it since he was a star football player at age 19, going on to become an NFL star and actor. “I am pretty easily approachable. I’ve dealt with it my whole life,” he said.
His eldest daughter, Arnelle Simpson, spoke on her father’s behalf, describing him as her “best friend and rock”. “No one really knows how much we’ve been through, this ordeal in the last nine years,” she said.
One of the two robbery victims, Bruce Fromong, also took the stand in Simpson’s defense.
“I’m here to say that I’ve known OJ for a long time,” Fromong said. “I don’t feel he’s a threat to anyone out there.”
Simpson was acquitted over the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Goldman, but held liable for their deaths in a February 1997 civil trial brought by Goldman’s family, who have been pursuing justice for their son since he died in 1994. The civil charge brought a $33m penalty, which bankrupted Simpson, though he was able to live a comfortable life off his NFL pension.
Simpson had retreated to suburban Florida, where he lived relatively quietly until he wrote a book explaining how he would have committed the double murder, had he been inclined to do so. It was released in 2007, months before he was arrested in Las Vegas for the attempted robbery.
Simpson was sentenced in December 2008 for 12 criminal charges including kidnapping and armed robbery after being found guilty of holding up sports memorabilia dealers in room 1203 at Las Vegas’s Palace Station hotel and casino in September 2007.
At the 2008 trial, jurors heard recordings secretly made of the hotel room confrontation, where Simpson can be heard instructing men to take items that had been stolen from him.
“I did not mean to hurt anyone, I did not mean to steal anything, just my own stuff,” Simpson told the judge before his sentencing in December 2008. “I just wanted my personal things back … I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody.”
The judge, Jackie Glass, emphasized at the sentencing hearing that Simpson’s sentence was not tied to his past actions.
Nearly 10 years later, at the Thursday hearing, one of the parole commissioners, Connie Bisbee, also alluded to Simpson’s history.
“Mr Simpson, you are getting the same hearing that everybody else gets,” Bisbee said, prompting a hint of laughter from Simpson and his attorney.
Another parole commissioner, Susan Jackson, said they had received hundreds of letters of support and opposition for Simpson, and that most of the letters of opposition mentioned the 1995 murder trial. Jackson said that trial would not be considered in their decision.
Twenty years on, the 1995 trial has not faded from the spotlight, inspiring a television mini-series in 2016 and the documentary, OJ: Made in America, which won the documentary feature Oscar in 2017.
And for the family of the victims, the trial is still a prescient reminder that no one has been found guilty for the two deaths.
The father and sister of Goldman, Fred and Kim Goldman, said on Thursday before the hearing that they did not expect to see justice for his death.
“What’s troubling to me is not only him, but the whole system gives second chances to violent felons or, for that matter, anyone in jail,” he said. “Ron doesn’t get a second chance.”
After Simpson’s acquittal in 1995, the Goldmans continued to pursue charges and brought a civil suit against him.
The Goldman family also published Simpson’s book If I Did It, which lays out how the murders would have transpired, had he committed them. The publisher, HarperCollins, withdrew the book just before it was published, but the Goldman family won rights to the book and published it under the title If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer in an effort to recoup funds they were owed from the civil trial.
“We lived our life with [Simpson] walking the streets and sharing the same roads that we did,” Goldman’s sister, Kim, told Good Morning America. “With him being locked up in Lovelock, it’s been a chance for us to kind of reclaim some control over our life and have some glimpse of sanity.
“I’m preparing myself for that to be changing come October.”