Parole board votes unanimously for release
Retired American football legend O.J. Simpson on Thursday was granted parole for his role in a 2007 robbery and kidnapping at a Las Vegas hotel.
The former Hall of Famer, now 70, made his case before four parole commissioners via video-conference from the Lovelock Correctional Center, the Nevada prison where he has been held for almost nine years.
An apologetic Simpson took full responsibility for the crimes, saying he was sorry and all he now wanted was to spend time with family and friends.
His oldest daughter, Arnelle Simpson, as well as robbery victim and his long-time friend, Bruce Fromong, testified in favor of his release.
In an emotional speech, Simpson's daughter said his family wanted him back.
"No one really knows how much we have been through this ordeal over the last nine years," she said.
"My experience with him is that he is my best friend and my rock," she said. "And as a family we recognize that he is not the perfect man.
"But we do know that, I know that he is truly remorseful, and we just want him to come home so we can move forward, for us, quietly."
Wearing a Heisman shirt apparently in honor of one of O.J. Simpson's highest sporting achievements, victim Bruce Fromong said he was a friend of Simpson for almost two decades, and corroborated his account that the football great never pointed a gun at him or assaulted him physically.
"I have never stolen anything from O.J.," Fromong said. "O.J. is my friend, always has been, and I hope will remain my friend."
Fromong said he felt Simpson's original sentence was too harsh. "It is time to give him a second chance," he said. "He is a good man, he made a mistake.
After a brief deliberation, the parole board decided on granting parole, effective in October.
Simpson has been in public eye since the late 1960s first as a promising college player and then as a superstar in the NFL for a decade.
But he came to be known much more for his downfall when he was arrested in 1994 for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.
What followed was a criminal case heard gavel-to-gavel on television and watched by millions around the world, sharply dividing public opinion and spurring a debate on racial bias in law enforcement and media coverage of high-profile cases.
Simpson was acquitted in 1995 under a mixture of intense suspicion on one side and indignation at his vilification on the other.
A decade later, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in prison with eligibility for parole in nine years after he led a group of men and stole sports memorabilia from Fromong at gunpoint.
At the parole hearing, Simpson said he has not "made any excuses in the nine years that I've been here and I'm not trying to make an excuse now.
“If I would have made a better judgment back then, none of this would have happened. And I take full responsibility," he said.
During his time in prison, Simpson said he has tried to be a "model prisoner" and even mediated "many, many times" between inmates in conflict. He credited an alternative-to-violence course he took behind bars for giving him the tools to defuse confrontations and avoid them himself.
"Right now, I'm at a point in my life where all I want to do is spend as much time as I can with my children and my friends," Simpson said. "I've done my time. I've done it as well and as respectfully as I think anybody can."
In voting for his release, Commissioner Tony Corda cited Simpson's low risk to reoffend on the court's guidelines, his community and family support, stable release plans, no prior convictions, and the programming he received in prison.
The board said the only aggravating factor was his victims feared for their safety because of the use of guns in the crime.
Simpson said he didn't realize somebody in his group was brandishing a gun, and he had never held a gun on anyone.
Before announcing her vote, board member Susan Jackson said the board did not look kindly on parole violations and warned Simpson that any breach would swiftly end him up back in jail.
"And if he called me tomorrow and said 'Bruce, I'm getting out, will you pick me up?'," Fromong said while looking at Simpson, "I'll be here tomorrow. I mean that," bringing Simpson to tears for the first time during the hearing.