A Nevada parole board has voted to grant O.J. Simpson's parole after he served nine years for a 2007 armed robbery. Simpson will be eligible for release on Oct. 1.
The former NFL star smiled and sighed with relief as they announced their unanimous decision, one-by-one.
"Our decision, though difficult, is fair and just," said one parole board member.
They cited his behavior in prison, community support and lack of other convictions.
The whole world seemed to be watching Thursday when Simpson asked the parole board to release him from prison. Every major news outlet streamed the hearing live, bringing back memories of the infamous O.J. chase in the '90s.
Simpson, 70, was sentenced to a minimum of nine years and a maximum of 33 years in prison for his role in the armed robbery of two sports memorabilia agents at a Las Vegas hotel.
During Thursday’s hearing, Simpson, 70, faced a large flat-screen video monitor at Lovelock Correctional Center and answered questions via closed-circuit video from the parole board. Simpson told the board he didn’t make any excuses during his nine years behind bars and has no intention of making them during his parole hearing.
The former sports star described what led up to an armed robbery at a Las Vegas hotel, saying he never pointed a gun at anyone or made any threats during the crime that put him in prison. Simpson strongly stated that almost all the sports memorabilia items he saw in a collector’s Las Vegas hotel room belonged to him.
Simpson then said, laughing, "I could easily stay in Nevada but I don't think you guys want me here."
The chairwoman of the parole commissioner said, "No comment here." Parole commissioners say he applied to live with family in Florida.
Arnelle Simpson, O.J.’s oldest child, also addressed the board on behalf of her family and said she has remained close to her father throughout his incarceration.
“We just want him to come home,” Arnelle Simpson described. She added that she knows her father is remorseful, and the family wants him home so they can move forward. She called her father her best friend and her rock.
The Nevada parole board said it’s received hundreds of letters of support and opposition related to this case. Parole Commissioner Susan Jackson said Thursday that the opposition letters requested the board take into account his 1995 acquittal on murder charges in the death of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman as well as a civil court decision that found him liable for the deaths.
The O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995 lasted eight months. Thursday’s parole hearing lasted a little more than an hour before the board broke for deliberations.
“I am sorry that things turned out the way they did. I had no intent to commit a crime,” Simpson said during his closing remarks.
“I thought I was glad to get my stuff back, but it wasn’t worth it,” he added.
Simpson was optimistic about his chances of getting paroled Thursday in Nevada, according to one of Simpson’s closest friends.
Tom Scotto indicated Simpson is ready to reclaim his life outside of prison.
“He says, ‘Tell them we’ll be playing golf again soon,’ " Scotto said Sunday in a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports.
Simpson sounded “excited’’ when he and Scotto spoke by phone last week, according to Scotto, who added that he will be in the hearing room with the former football star Thursday at Lovelock Correctional Center, where Simpson has been imprisoned for almost nine years.
“He just says, ‘We’ll be together again, my life will go back to normal, ’ " Scotto said. “He’s very positive. He’s always been positive."
Simpson’s plan if he is freed, according to Scotto, is to move back to Florida and live with Scotto, eventually buy his own house and, like old times, hit the golf course. Another option is for Simpson to live with his sister, Shirley Baker, in Sacramento, according to Scotto. Either way, the Nevada commissioners must approve an inmate’s parole plan before being released.
“We played every day in Miami, even if it was 100 degrees," Scotto said. “We’d travel to West Palm Beach to play. We’d play once a week with Lawrence Taylor and Michael Jordan.
“I’ll tell you something really funny. You know you wear a (golf) glove on the course. And all of his friends, anytime he drops the glove, they say, ‘Oops, you did it again.’ "
That’s a reference to the bloody glove recovered in 1994 at the scene of the crime where Simpson’s former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman were murdered.
While Simpson denied killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Goldman and was found not guilty in the 1995 criminal trial, he has acknowledged his role in the 2008 robbery that led to $2 million to $3 million in legal fees, according to Scotto.
When asked about Simpson’s financial situation, Scotto said Simpson still has money from a personal pension in which Simpson invested $5 million many years ago, a Screen Actors Guild pension from his acting and producing credits and his NFL pension that pays $1,700 a month.
A civil jury in 1997 ordered Simpson to pay $33.5 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Goldman.
“He’ll be OK," Scotto said. "He's not going to be poor. He’ll survive. He’ll be able to get his own place.
“He just needs to adjust. Ten years is a long time to be away."
Scotto, 55, said he met Simpson 21 years ago when Scotto’s brother had a chance encounter with Simpson and invited him for dinner. He shared with USA TODAY Sports multiple photos of himself and Simpson and Simpson’s family.
"As soon as him and me sat down next to each other, we just automatically clicked," said Scotto, who said he owned 10 auto body shops and five Chicken Kitchen restaurants before retiring at 40. “We’ve been best friends ever since."
Simpson’s daughter, Arnelle, and sister will also be in the hearing room in Lovelock on Thursday, according to Scotto. He said Simpson’s brother Melvin and niece Tracy Baker will be elsewhere at Lovelock due to restrictions in the hearing room.
During the incarceration, Scotto said, Simpson has stayed in regular contact with Simpson’s four children — Arnelle, 48, who lives in Fresno, Calif.; Jason, 47, who lives in Atlanta; and Sydney, 31, and Justin, 28, who live in Florida about an hour from Scotto’s home in Naples.
“Everybody thinks it’s a great idea for him to come with me because he needs somebody to look after him like I always did,’’ Scotto said. “I left him one time and look what happened."
Simpson was in Las Vegas for Scotto’s wedding in September 2007 when Simpson was involved in the robbery, after which Simpson said he was trying to take back memorabilia items that belonged to him. Scotto said he was busy getting a wedding license, wedding cake and flowers and apart from Simpson when things went awry.
Bloated in 2013 during his first parole hearing, when he was granted parole for the lesser charges, Simpson has since lost around 70 pounds, according to Scotto.
“He’s in the best shape I’ve ever seen him,’’ Scotto said. “He lost a ton of weight. He looks like he’s 50. He just turned 70 and he doesn’t look anywhere near 70."
Although he has been unable to play golf, Simpson has enjoyed another passion: watching NFL games.
“He doesn’t want anybody visiting him on Sunday because that’s football day in season," Scotto said.
Parole in Nevada is based on a point system, and Scotto said Simpson has lost points only for admitting he had been drinking alcohol the day of the 2007 robbery. During his 2013 parole hearing, Simpson mentioned the possibility of getting involved in Alcoholics Anonymous or taking another course that would improve his chances of getting parole for the remaining counts of his conviction.
Simpson said in 2013 that he had no behavioral issues that resulted in writeups. Since then, Scotto said, there have been no incidents and, upon reflection, that he has seen Simpson angry only once in the two decades they’ve known each other.
“And it was to protect me,’’ Scotto said. “We were playing golf and these guys were on the golf course and they were getting off a par-3 green. They were walking off and I hit a good shot (onto the green the golfers were walking off).
“So they came running and screaming over and O.J. chased them down the fairway. (Simpson) was actually running. I’ve only seen him mad that one time.
"He’s a sweet, generous, good soul. Some people might laugh, but it’s the truth."
In 2013, Simpson told parole board members he was coaching softball at Lovelock, and Scotto said he’s still doing it. Scotto also said Simpson started what he called a Baptist church at the prison.
“He was always a little bit religious,’’ Scotto said, adding he did not know what inspired Simpson to start the church. “I mean, he’s not a fanatic.’’
Although Simpson’s sister, Shirley Baker, has granted interviews in the past, Scotto said he is serving as the family’s spokesman and, if parole is granted Thursday, he will relay words from Simpson. Scotto said he has visited Simpson in Lovelock every two months and the two speak by phone regularly.
“When he called me the other day,” Scotto said, “he gave me a few things he wants to get out there.’’
By Oct. 1, Simpson might be out there, too.
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