OJ Simpson, the former American football star, has been granted parole after more than eight years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel armed robbery.
Having successfully made his case in a nationally televised hearing on Thursday, Simpson could be a free man as early as October 1.
By then, he will have served the minimum of his nine-to-33-year armed-robbery sentence for a bungled attempt to snatch sports memorabilia and other mementoes he claimed had been stolen from him.
Simpson, 70, made his plea for freedom in a hearing room at the Lovelock Correctional Center in rural Nevada as four parole commissioners in Carson City, a two-hour drive away, questioned him via video.
He got the four votes he needed from the parole commissioners who heard his case.
In agreeing to release Simpson, they cited his lack of a prior conviction, the low risk he might commit another crime, his community support and his release plans.
During the more than hour-long hearing, Simpson forcefully insisted – as he has all along – that he was only trying to retrieve items that belonged to him and never meant to hurt anyone.
He said he never pointed a gun at anyone nor made any threats during the crime.
But why did you bring a gun? You got away with nearly chopping your wife Nicole Brown Simpson’s head off, and killing Ron Goldman on June 12, 1994. I know the sentence for the armed robbery and kidnapping charge was excessive. But you should stay in prison for life because of extreme stupidity.
“I’ve done my time. I’ve done it as well and respectfully as I think anybody can,” he said.
Simpson’s chances of winning release were considered good, given similar cases and Simpson’s model behavior behind bars.
His defenders have argued, too, that his sentence was out of proportion to the crime and that he was being punished for the two murders he was acquitted of during his 1995 “trial of the century” in Los Angeles, the stabbings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Before the hearing concluded, one of the dealers Simpson robbed, Bruce Fromong, said Simpson never pointed a gun at him during the confrontation.
Fromong said it was one of the men with Simpson who did so. He said Simpson deserved to be released.
‘It wasn’t worth it’ (What is he referring to the armed robbery and kidnapping or hacking his wife and her boyfriend to death?)
Simpson said that he had spent his time in prison mentoring fellow inmates, often keeping others out of trouble, and believes he has become a better person during those years.
The Juice mentoring fellow inmates. Now that’s scary. Hopefully he was not mentoring them on how to hack two people to death and getting away with it.
Asked if he was confident he could stay out of trouble if he were released, Simpson replied that he learned much during a course on alternatives to violence he took in prison and that in any case, he has always gotten along well with people.
“I had basically spent a conflict-free life he said – a remark that lit up social media with scornful and sarcastic comments given the murder case and allegations that he abused his wife.
In a final statement to the board, he apologized again. I’m sorry it happened, I’m sorry, Nevada,” he said. “I thought I was glad to get my stuff back, but it just wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth it and I’m sorry.”
Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, DC, said some of the faultlines from the original murder trial had resurfaced again: some believed Simpson had been framed in the initial murder trial by racist police, others thought he was clearly guilty.
“Some people were saying that original – alleged – crime should have taken into account,” he said.
“[But] the Parole Board was very clear: this was simply about that armed robbery in Nevada, OJ Simpson has done his time, and he should be released by October 1 at the earliest.”
OJ Simpson’s life
Dubbed The Juice, Simpson won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best college football player in 1968 and went on to become one of the NFL’s all-time greats.
He was also a Monday Night Football commentator, raced through airports in Hertz rental-car commercials and built a Hollywood career with roles in the Naked Gun comedies and other films.
All of that collapsed with his arrest in the 1994 slayings and his trial, a live-TV sensation that transfixed viewers with its testimony about the bloody glove that did not fit and stirred furious debate over racist police, celebrity justice and cameras in the courtroom.
Last year, the case proved to be compelling TV all over again with the ESPN documentary, OJ: Made in America, and the award-winning FX miniseries, The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story.
In 1997, Simpson was found liable in civil court for the two killings and ordered to pay $33.5m to survivors, including his children and the Goldman family.
Then a decade later, he and five accomplices – two with guns – stormed a hotel room and seized photos, plaques and signed balls, some of which never belonged to Simpson, from two sports memorabilia dealers.
Simpson was convicted in 2008, and the long prison sentence brought a measure of satisfaction to some of those who thought he got away with murder
Source Al Jazeera news agency