CARSON CITY, Nev. – O.J. Simpson was granted parole Thursday, clearing the way for the former football star and actor to be released from a Nevada prison as soon as Oct. 1.
Simpson, 70, will be a free man for the first time since 2007, when he was arrested for a Las Vegas robbery that led to his being sentenced to a minimum of nine years and a maximum of 33 years.
"I’ve done my time, I’d just like to get back to my family and friends, and believe it or not, I do have some real friends," Simpson said. "Nine years away from my family, it just wasn’t worth it. I’m sorry."
Simpson appeared on video conference from the Lovelock Correctional Center about 100 miles away from Carson City where the parole board convened.
He wore standard-issue blue jeans, light blue button-down shirt, white T-shirt and white sneakers and was seated next to his attorney Malcolm LaVergne. Simpson's daughter Arnelle Simpson, sister Shirley Baker and close friend Tom Scotto were also in the room.
Connie Bisbee, chairman of the parole board, opened the hearing and said Simpson had been classified as "low risk" on the state's risk assessment form.
The hearing lasted 75 minutes before a break. Bisbee and the three other members of the board returned and each cast their vote in favor of granting Simpson parole. Simpson bowed his head and said, "Thank you."
As he left the room and headed back inside the prison, a heavy steel door closed behind him and Simpson clenched his hands and exclaimed: "Oh! God! Oh!"
The hearing was televised live and the latest chapter in Simpson’s public saga, which began in 1994 when his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman were found murdered. That triggered an infamous slow-speed chase, with Simpson and his friend Al Cowling in a white Ford Bronco trying to evade police as millions of Americans watched the drama unfold on live TV.
Simpson, eventually turning himself in without further incident, was acquitted of the murders in 1995. However, a civil jury in 1997 found him responsible for the killings and ordered him to pay $33.5 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Goldman.
Bisbee quickly referenced the 1995 trial during Thursday's hearing. She said the board had received hundreds of letters, supporting and opposing Simpson's release, and requesting the board question him about the murders. However, she said the case was not relevant to Thursday's hearing.
The hearing did cover the 2007 armed robbery in Las Vegas that resulted in Simpson's incarceration. Simpson and two accomplices held up two sports memorabilia agents who Simpson said were in possession of items that belonged to him.
When asked about the incident on Thursday by parole board member Tony Corda, Simpson emphasized that the memorabilia was his.
"It was my property," he forcefully said. "I didn’t see the guns brandished."
But the judge and jury in the 2008 criminal trial rejected Simpson’s rationale.
Bruce Fromong, one of the two sports memorabilia dealers, said after the trial of Simpson, “California couldn’t get him, and Nevada did.’’
Fromong appeared at Thursday's hearing and said Simpson did not deserve to be in prison for as long as he has. He added that he considers Simpson a friend, which prompted Simpson to wipe away tears.
The crime led to speculation that Simpson was struggling financially. He was worth $10 million in the early 1990s, according to published reports. But legal fees cost him millions of dollars and forced him to sell off multiple properties, including his Florida home which sold for $500,000 in 2014.
It is unclear how much money Simpson still has from a personal pension, a Screen Actors Guild pension and a NFL pension by virtue of a record-setting, 11-year NFL career. But Scotto, one of Simpson’s closest friends, said Simpson has enough money to buy his own house.
“He’ll be OK,’’ Scotto said. “He’s not going to be poor. He’ll survive.’’
In 2013, Simpson was granted parole for kidnapping and other counts but had to serve another four years before he was eligible for a parole hearing on the remaining criminal counts.
Before the hearing, Scotto said the former football star was optimistic as Thursday approached.
“He says, ‘Tell them we’ll be playing golf again soon,’ ” Scotto told. “He’s very positive. He’s always been positive.’’