The moment the former football star received his fourth and final vote from the Nevada Board of Parole recommending release, Simpson dropped his head before responding, “Thank you.”
He didn’t look at his attorney or his daughter Arnelle Simpson, who had come to argue for his release. After nine years in prison, Simpson, 70, instead bowed his head again and placed his hands on the simple wooden table; once again, his every movement was broadcast to millions of people on national television who were curious to see his fate.
The ruling came after a hearing in which Simpson testified that he longed to be reunited with his family and children and that he has no interest in returning to the media spotlight following his conviction for the armed robbery of two memorabilia dealers.
Prison had separated the Hall of Fame running back from the glitzy lifestyle he once led, Simpson testified at the hearing. He hasn’t drunk alcohol in nine years and said he didn’t miss it. He has been the commissioner of an 18-team prison softball league. He took a prison computer class not because he was interested in computers, but so he could exchange electronic messages with his four children, because, he said, his kids were less responsive to phone calls.
“Are you humbled by this incarceration?” parole commissioner Susan Jackson asked.
“Oh, yes, sure,” Simpson responded. “I wish this would have never happened. … If I would have made a better judgment back then, none of this would have happened.”
Simpson expressed some regret but did not appear overly apologetic during the hearing. Remorse, however, is not a requirement for parole under Nevada law. “The board does not require that an inmate state or indicate that they are remorseful,” Board of Parole spokesman David M. Smith said.
During the hearing, Simpson was assured by one of his victims that the former football star and actor already has a ride waiting for him when he gets out.
“I feel that it’s time to give him a second chance; it’s time for him to go home to his family, his friends,” Bruce Fromong, a sports memorabilia dealer and a friend of Simpson’s, told the Nevada Board of Parole.
Fromong was threatened and robbed by Simpson and some of his associates in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2007, and his testimony in that case led to Simpson’s imprisonment. But, Fromong told the board, “if he called me tomorrow and said, ‘Bruce I’m getting out, would you pick me up?….’ ” At that point, Fromong paused, turned to Simpson and addressed the former USC gridiron star by his nickname: “Juice, I’d be here tomorrow. I mean that, buddy.”
The board recessed late Thursday morning after hearing more than an hour of testimony from Simpson; Arnelle Simpson, his oldest daughter; and Fromong. The panel returned about a half-hour later and unanimously voted to grant parole.
Arnelle Simpson became emotional shortly after beginning her testimony, sometimes stopping to shake her head.
“No one really knows how much we have been through, this ordeal the last nine years,” she said. She stopped and exhaled deeply, excusing herself before putting her fist up to her mouth to steady herself. “My experience with him — is that he’s like my best friend, my rock.”
She added: “As a family, we recognize he is not a perfect man. … But he has done his best.”
Simpson looked upbeat during his first public appearance in years, smiling and nodding to parole commissioners through a video link.
But while the parole hearing was specific to the 2008 robbery conviction, many of his answers to the four commissioners brought back memories of his acquittal in the 1995 double-murder of Ron Goldman and Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson.
“I’m in no danger to pull a gun on anybody. I’ve never been accused of it,” he said. “Nobody has ever accused me of pulling any weapon on them.”
Goldman and Brown were killed with a knife.
Simpson lawyer Malcolm LaVergne noted the murders — and how they played no part in Thursday’s proceedings — during a televised news conference in Lovelock, Nev., after the board’s decision.
“Obviously, there’s a 10,000-pound elephant in that room, and I think we were very successful in making sure that that elephant was sleeping and that it was washed and very clean and that it never started to rear its head,” LaVergne said.
Simpson, who turned 70 this month, only barely resembles the athletic younger man who was tried and acquitted of the murder of his ex-wife and her friend in 1994.
Wearing standard-issue blue jeans, a blue button-down shirt and a white T-shirt, Simpson appeared with close-cropped gray hair, and he looked slightly stiff as he sat at a plain wooden table inside a prison five miles outside Lovelock, where he has served nine years in prison for a robbery and kidnapping conviction in 2008.
Through a slight delay, Simpson blinked rapidly and blew out a deep breath at one point as he listened to state parole chairwoman Connie Bisbee read off the list of charges that landed him a sentence of nine to 33 years in prison.
“Mr. Simpson, you are getting the same hearing everyone else gets,” Bisbee said, then acknowledging the media firestorm that Simpson’s hearing has generated — one of the few news events to edge President Donald Trump off the national news broadcasts. “Thank you, ma’am,” Simpson replied, laughing.
This was Simpson’s second parole hearing. His last one in 2013 resulted in parole on one of the charges stemming from the robbery and kidnapping conviction in 2008.
The commissioners asked Simpson a series of questions about how he had conducted himself in prison, what he thought his life would be like outside prison and whether he felt humbled by his convictions.
Simpson said on several occasions he was “a good guy” and indicated that he mostly wanted to spend time with his family in Florida — bemoaning missed graduations and birthdays — and that the state of Nevada might be glad to be rid of him.
“No comment,” one of the commissioners said to some laughter.
He expressed regret at being involved with the crime, but drew some pushback from commissioners who took issue with his version of events, in which he said he didn’t know a gun had been brandished in the hotel room during the robbery.
But Simpson held to his version, repeatedly apologizing and expressing regret that he had left a wedding in Las Vegas to go recover memorabilia he said was his.
“I am sorry things turned out the way they did,” Simpson said. “I had no intent to commit a crime.”
At one point, Simpson said he had not made any excuses for what he did during the years he’d spent in prison, but in the same sentence, he turned the blame toward the men who had joined him in intimidating the memorabilia dealers.
“I never should have allowed these alleged security guys to help me,” Simpson said. “These guys took over.”
Because it’s Simpson, there was high interest. On Wednesday night, media satellite trucks already were camped in the dusty parking lot facing the fences and guard towers of the prison. In Carson City, where the parole board met 100 miles to the southwest, trucks were lined up in a business park. The commissioners received hundreds of letters from members of the public, either urging them to release Simpson or keep him in prison, with many of them referencing the 1994 case.
In his testimony, Simpson referred to the effect of the incident on Fromong. “Bruce was traumatized by it,” Simpson said, adding, “He accepted my apology.” Another victim of the robbery, Alfred Beardsley, died in November.
The same four board members who granted Simpson parole four years ago were at Thursday’s hearing: Bisbee, Jackson, Tony Corda and Adam Endel.