O.J. Simpson once thrilled crowds as he ran for touchdowns and hurdled airport seats in car rental ads to achieve Hollywood celebrity before he was acquitted of murder in the 1995 “trial of the century” in Los Angeles.
Now, an aging Simpson will appear as inmate No. 1027820 in a starkly plain hearing room in a remote Nevada prison Thursday to plead for his freedom. He’s spent more than eight years behind bars for armed robbery and assault with a weapon after trying to take back sports memorabilia in a budget hotel room in Las Vegas.
CBCSports.ca will carry the live stream of the hearing on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET.
Simpson, 70, will ask four parole board members who sided with him once before to release him in October, a likely possibility with his clean prison record.
It will be a stunning scene for a charismatic star once known as The Juice who won the Heisman Trophy as the best U.S. college football player in 1968 and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
He appeared to have it all.
He went on to star in Hertz commercials and movies like the Naked Gun comedies and as a commentator for Monday Night Football before his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were slain in 1994.
Simpson is expected to reiterate that he has kept a promise to stay out of trouble, coaches in the prison gym where he works and counsels other inmates.
“I guess, my age, guys come to me,” Simpson told parole officials four years ago.
The same commissioners granted him parole on some of his 12 charges in 2013, leaving him with four years to serve before reaching his minimum term.
At Simpson’s side in his bid for freedom will be lawyer Malcolm LaVergne, close friend Tom Scotto, sister Shirley Baker and daughter Arnelle Simpson.
O.J. Simpson is expected to explain what he would do and where he would live if he is granted parole after reaching the nine-year minimum of his 33-year sentence.
He was convicted in 2008 after enlisting some men he barely knew, including two with guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier.
“My crime was trying to retrieve for my family my own property,” Simpson told the parole officials in 2013 before apologizing.
“Make no mistake, I would give it all back,” he said, “to get these last five years back.”
The items disappeared after Simpson was found not guilty in the 1994 killings of his ex-wife and her friend and before he was found liable in 1997 in civil court for the deaths.
He was ordered to pay $33.5 million US to survivors, including his children and the Goldman family.
A Goldman family spokesman said Ron Goldman’s father and sister, Fred and Kim, won’t be part of Simpson’s parole hearing but that they felt apprehensive about “how this will change their lives again should Simpson be released.”
“They will remain patient and optimistic that the system will do what is necessary to ensure the public’s safety remains a priority and that proper justice will be served,” spokesman Michael Wright said this week.
The Goldmans believe Simpson got away with murder in Los Angeles, and many people felt the stiff sentence handed down in 2008 in Las Vegas wasn’t just about the robbery.
Now, even the retired district attorney who prosecuted Simpson for the heist acknowledges that Simpson has a good chance to go free. But David Roger denied Simpson’s sentence was “payback” for his acquittal in the Los Angeles slayings.
The former prosecutor said Simpson took a gamble when he rejected an offer to avoid trial by pleading guilty to a felony that could have gotten him 2 1/2 years in prison. “He thought he was invincible, and he rolled the dice,” Roger said.
11 key players in parole hearing
The Nevada parole board members who will decide if O.J. Simpson gets released from prison have experience in law enforcement, prisons, probation and social work.
Others involved in Thursday’s hearing have varying ties to the former football, TV and movie star who was acquitted of murder in 1995 in Los Angeles but convicted of armed robbery in Las Vegas in 2008. They include:
Simpson’s attorney in Las Vegas. LaVergne was not Simpson’s trial attorney but was involved in his appeals to the Nevada Supreme Court. LaVergne grew up in Texas, graduated in 2000 from Cornell Law School in New York, and has practiced general practice law in Las Vegas since 2006.
A close friend of Simpson’s whose wedding the former football star was in Las Vegas to attend the weekend of the 2007 robbery. Scotto, 55, of Naples, Fla., did not accompany Simpson and five accomplices who confronted two sports memorabilia dealers in a casino hotel room. He said this week that he would be happy to have Simpson live at his home if Simpson is released.
The oldest of Simpson’s four children from two marriages. His other children have mostly stayed out of the public eye over the years, but Arnelle, 48, of Fresno, Calif., testified at a court hearing in Las Vegas in 2013 and she planned to speak to the parole board, Scotto said. Simpson’s other children are Jason Simpson, 47, of Atlanta, daughter Sydney Simpson, 31, and Justin Simpson, 28, both of Florida.
Simpson’s sister and longtime supporter. Baker of Sacramento plans to be in the parole hearing room at Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada and might host her brother if he is released to live in California, Scotto said.
A sports collectibles dealer and longtime Simpson acquaintance. Fromong, 63, planned to attend the hearing as the surviving victim of the robbery. The other memorabilia seller, Alfred Beardsley, died in 2015. Fromong has said he and Simpson have made amends and that he intends to speak in favor of Simpson’s parole.
The chairwoman of the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners since 2009. She will lead the Simpson hearing by videoconference from offices in Carson City, the state capital. Bisbee was an associate Nevada prison warden before being appointed to the board in 2003. She also was at Simpson’s 2013 hearing and signed off on parole on several lesser charges.
A parole commissioner since 2009 and one of four who will participate in the hearing. He worked for more than 22 years in Nevada prisons as a guard, caseworker, analyst and associate warden. He also was at Simpson’s 2013 hearing and backed parole on lesser charges.
A parole commissioner since 2009 who will participate in the hearing. He spent 18 years working his way from Nevada prison guard to associate warden at the state’s maximum-security facility at Ely State Prison. He also was at Simpson’s 2013 hearing and approved parole on other charges.
A parole commissioner since 2008 who participate in the hearing. She’s the board member who questioned Simpson during the 2013 hearing and joined the others to OK parole on lesser charges. Jackson is a former state gambling, attorney general and state police investigator.
Ed Gray and Michael Keeler
The two parole commissioners in Las Vegas who will be asked to weigh in if the four other board members in Carson City don’t reach a unanimous decision. Both have been on the board for more than a decade. One board seat is vacant, with a new appointee yet to be sworn in.