The former NFL great could be released from a Nevada prison as early as October
Simpson said at Thursday's parole board hearing that he had lived a "conflict-free life"
CNN Special Report “After O.J.: The Fuhrman Tapes Revealed,” airing at 11 p.m. ET Friday, uncovers never-before-heard excerpts from the tapes that rocked the “trial of the century.”
It was an oddly familiar O.J. Simpson that for a little while filled TV screens across America on Thursday.
A Nevada parole board decided Simpson should be freed after the former NFL star apologized for his role in a 2007 armed robbery, said he’d been a model prisoner, and promised that he’d have no conflicts if released.
Simpson’s appearance before the board garnered wall-to-wall coverage from cable news shows, coverage that recalled the “trial of the century,” and the many months more than 20 years ago when it transfixed a nation.
“I’ve done my time,” Simpson said. “I’ve done it as well and as respectfully as I think anyone can.”
Now 70, Simpson’s energy seemed little affected by his time behind bars. He was alert, engaged, and quick to smile, even letting out a hearty laugh when parole board Chairman Connie Bisbee accidentally said he was aged 90. “I feel like it,” he said.
Simpson has served nine years of a nine-to-33-year sentence for an armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas. He is expected to be released as early as October – and said he plans to move to his home in Florida.
An entire generation of Americans has come of age since Simpson seemed an almost inescapable public figure. But for one afternoon, it felt like 1995 again.
That was the year he was acquitted of murder charges in the grisly slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Thursday’s parole hearing followed renewed interest in his 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 the 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.”
Parole board vote unanimous
For his part, Simpson seemed remarkably unaltered. He repeatedly avoided taking full responsibility for the Vegas crime.
At one point, he said he had lived a “conflict-free life,” a statement that perhaps bemused anyone whose memory stretches back more than two decades.
“Juice,” as he was known in his heyday, said associates misled him during the Vegas robbery and then turned on him in court.
One of those associates is Tom Riccio. Simpson testified that Riccio is the one who called him, persuading him to take part in the robbery. Simpson said Thursday he regretted ever taking Riccio’s call.
But, according to Riccio, Simpson did a lot more than that.
“He should wish he didn’t make all those calls after my call,” Riccio told CNN. “After he took my call he did a lot of things he shouldn’t have done.”
Riccio added that Simpson was the one who orchestrated the robbery.
“He plotted it all and gathered up men with guns.”
Simpson said Riccio avoided punishment by throwing him under the bus.
“Unfortunately, they got a get-out-of-jail-free card when they said ‘O.J. told me (to do it),’” Simpson said. “Nothing I can do about that.”
Sufficient remorse is not a relevant factor for parole, and Simpson ticked off several mitigating factors that made him a good candidate for release. He was discipline-free in prison, he has stable release plans, he has family and community support – and, of course, he has no prior criminal convictions.
The four parole board members voted unanimously to grant him parole, and board member Tony Corda said he was graded a “low risk to reoffend.”
Simpson smiled, said “thank you,” and then put his head down for a few moments silently.
‘My best friend’
Simpson said in closing remarks that he had been a peacemaker in the prison and had been a model prisoner.
“I’ve spent nine years making no excuses about anything. I am sorry that things turned out the way they did. I had no intent to commit a crime.”
The parole hearing featured testimony from Arnelle Simpson, the former football great’s oldest daughter, who said her father was “my best friend and my rock.”
Simpson also said he has taken two “Alternative to Violence” classes, which he said was “the most important course any person in this prison can take.”
In addition, robbery victim Bruce Fromong testified that he had forgiven Simpson for the crime at that Las Vegas hotel room, and advocated for his release.
Simpson had also been described by authorities as a model prisoner at Lovelock Correctional Center, a medium-security prison in the Nevada desert.
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.
CNN’s Paul Vercammen, Susannah Cullinane, Paul LeBlanc and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.