CARSON CITY, Nev. – O.J. Simpson will soon be a free man after appearing before a parole board in Nevada.
“Juice,” as he was known in his football heyday, is nine years into a nine-to-33-year sentence after his conviction in a 2007 kidnapping and armed robbery at a Las Vegas hotel.
But Simpson is best known for his infamous 1995 acquittal in the grisly slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in what was called the “trial of the century.”
Now 70, the former NFL great and movie star has been described by authorities as a model prisoner at Lovelock Correctional Center, a medium-security prison in the Nevada desert.
“Simpson has stayed out of trouble there,” said Brooke Keast, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Corrections. “We haven’t heard much from him.”
Thursday’s parole hearing follows renewed interest in Simpson’s story, which was explored last year in the award-winning documentary “O.J.: Made in America” and the FX true-crime drama “The People v. O.J. Simpson.”
Though it’s been 22 years since that not guilty verdict, the murder trial’s themes of criminal justice and race, trust in police, celebrity and domestic violence remain remarkably resonant in modern culture.
“We talk about O.J. as though the story is O.J.,” journalist Celia Farber says toward the end of the “Made in America” documentary. “The story is O.J. and us.”
On Thursday, Simpson’s attorney Malcolm LaVergne, his daughter Arnelle Simpson, his sister Shirley Baker and his longtime friend Tom Scotto arrived at Lovelock Correctional Center.
Simpson and an associate were convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon for attempting to steal pieces of Simpson sports memorabilia at gunpoint.
At his 2008 sentencing, the Hall of Fame running back said he went to the room in the Palace Station Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to reclaim family heirlooms and other personal items that had been taken from him. He also claimed he didn’t know his associates were armed.
“I wasn’t there to hurt anybody,” Simpson said. “I just wanted my personal things, and I realize now that was stupid of me. I am sorry.”
The case, which featured a colorful cast of seedy characters, secret recordings and a Las Vegas heist, read like a low-budget parody of “Ocean’s Eleven,” CNN wrote at the time.
Simpson’s legal team argued that the nine-to-33-year sentence did not match the crime and that it was, in fact, a form of payback for his controversial acquittal in the deaths of Brown and Goldman. Even Bruce Fromong, a victim in the robbery, agreed.
“It wasn’t about justice,” Fromong said in “O.J.: Made in America.” “They wanted the guy that got away with murder in 1994.”
Simpson has always denied he killed Brown and Goldman. Their families won a wrongful death civil judgment against him in 1997.
At a parole hearing in 2013, Simpson said he regretted the Las Vegas kidnapping and robbery.
“I just wish I had never gone to that room. I wish I had just said, ‘Keep it,’ and not worry about it,” he said. “All I can do about it since I’ve been here is be as respectful and as straightforward as I could be.”
How the parole hearing works
Simpson’s minimum sentence was nine years, so this year marks the first time he could be released on parole. In the 2013 hearing, he was granted parole on five of the 12 counts against him. At Thursday’s hearing, he needed to make parole on the other seven counts to be released.
The parole board scores an inmate on several factors — the higher the total score, the greater the risk involved in releasing him or her. A person with a score of zero to five points is deemed low risk; six to 11 points, medium risk; and 12 or more, high risk. In 2013, Simpson scored three points overall.
You are low risk to re-offend on our guidelines,” parole board member Tony Corda said.
The board voted 4-0 to grant parole for Simpson. He could be released as early as October.