O.J. BACK IN SPOT­LIGHT

Simp­son faces good chance at pa­role in Ne­vada rob­bery

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY KEN RIT­TER

Simp­son, who is now 70, mak­ing his case for pa­role when his hear­ing comes up on Thurs­day

O.J. Simp­son, the for­mer foot­ball star, TV pitch­man and now Ne­vada prison in­mate No. 1027820, will have a lot go­ing for him when he asks state pa­role board mem­bers this week to re­lease him af­ter serv­ing more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to re­trieve sports mem­o­ra­bilia.

Now 70, Simp­son will have his­tory in his favour and a clean record be­hind bars as he ap­proaches the nine-year min­i­mum of his 33-year sen­tence for armed rob­bery and as­sault with a weapon. Plus, the pa­role board sided with him once be­fore.

No one at his Thurs­day hear­ing is ex­pected to op­pose re­leas­ing him in Oc­to­ber — not his vic­tim, not even the for­mer pros­e­cu­tor who per­suaded a jury in Las Ve­gas to con­vict Simp­son in 2008.

“As­sum­ing that he’s be­haved him­self in prison, I don’t think it will be out of line for him to get pa­role,” said David Roger, the re­tired Clark County dis­trict at­tor­ney.

Four other men who went with Simp­son to a ho­tel room to re­trieve from two mem­o­ra­bilia deal­ers sports col­lectibles and per­sonal items that the for­mer foot­ball star said be­longed to him took plea deals in the heist and re­ceived pro­ba­tion.

Two of those men tes­ti­fied that they car­ried guns. An­other who stood trial with Simp­son was con­victed and served 27 months be­fore the Ne­vada Supreme Court ruled that Simp­son’s fame tainted the jury. Simp­son’s con­vic­tion was up­held.

Prison life was a stun­ning fall for a charis­matic celebrity whose sto­ry­book ca­reer as an elec­tri­fy­ing run­ning back dubbed “The Juice” won him the Heis­man Tro­phy as the best col­lege player in 1968 and a place in the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame in 1985.

He be­came a sports com­men­ta­tor, Hol­ly­wood movie ac­tor, car rental com­pany spokesman and one of the world’s most fa­mous peo­ple even be­fore his Los An­ge­les “trial of the cen­tury,” when he was ac­quit­ted in the killings of his ex-wife, Ni­cole Brown Simp­son, and her friend Ron­ald Gold­man.

Simp­son, ap­peared greyer and heav­ier than most re­mem­bered him when he was last seen, four years ago.

He will ap­pear Thurs­day by video­con­fer­ence from the Love­lock Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter, to be quizzed by four state pa­role com­mis­sion­ers in Car­son City, a two-hour drive away.

Two other mem­bers of the board will mon­i­tor the hear­ing, said David Smith, a pa­role hear­ing ex­am­iner.

The com­mis­sion­ers will have a pa­role hear­ing re­port that has not been made pub­lic, plus guide­lines and work­sheets that would ap­pear to favour Simp­son. It plans to make its writ­ten risk as­sess­ment pub­lic af­ter a de­ci­sion.

They will con­sider his age, whether his con­vic­tion was for a vi­o­lent crime (it was), his prior crim­i­nal his­tory (he had none) and his plans af­ter re­lease, Smith said.

Ne­vada has about 13,500 prison in­mates, and the gover­nor-ap­pointed Board of Pa­role Com­mis­sion­ers has av­er­aged about 8,300 an­nual hear­ings for the past four years. The rate of in­mates who are granted pa­role in dis­cre­tionary hear­ings held as they ap­proach their min­i­mum sen­tence, like Simp­son’s, av­er­ages about 82 per cent.

The same four board mem­bers also have ex­pe­ri­ence with Simp­son, hav­ing granted him pa­role in July 2013 on some charges — kid­nap­ping, rob­bery and bur­glary — stem­ming from the 2007 armed con­fronta­tion. The board’s de­ci­sion left Simp­son with four years to serve be­fore reach­ing his min­i­mum time be­hind bars.

Board mem­bers Con­nie Bis­bee, Tony Corda, Adam En­del and Su­san Jack­son noted at the time that Simp­son had a “pos­i­tive in­sti­tu­tional record,” with no dis­ci­plinary ac­tions be­hind bars.

Simp­son’s lawyer, friends and prison of­fi­cials say that hasn’t changed.

“He’s re­ally been a pos­i­tive force in there. He’s done a lot of good for a lot of peo­ple,” said Tom Scotto, a friend from Florida whose wed­ding Simp­son was in Las Ve­gas to at­tend the week­end of the rob­bery.

Scotto said he visits or talks with Simp­son ev­ery few months.

Simp­son leads a Bap­tist prayer group, men­tors in­mates, works in the gym, coaches sports teams and serves as com­mis­sioner of the prison yard softball league, Scotto said.

Scotto will be among the 15 peo­ple with Simp­son in a small con­fer­ence room at the prison, along with Simp­son’s lawyer, Mal­colm LaVergne, daugh­ter Ar­nelle Simp­son and sis­ter Shirley Baker.

A pa­role case worker, two prison guards and a small pool of me­dia also were ex­pected, along with Bruce Fromong, one of the mem­o­ra­bilia deal­ers who was robbed.

Fromong said he will at­tend as a vic­tim of the crime but will be “try­ing to be good for O.J.” He said he suf­fered four heart at­tacks and se­vere fi­nan­cial losses as a re­sult of the rob­bery but later for­gave Simp­son.

The other col­lectibles bro­ker, Al­fred Beard­s­ley, died in 2015.

Andy Cald­well, a re­tired Las Ve­gas po­lice de­tec­tive who in­ves­ti­gated the Simp­son case, will be at the prison but won’t be in the room.

“I don’t want to of­fer an opin­ion,” said Cald­well, now a Chris­tian min­is­ter in Mill City, Ore­gon. “I’m just cu­ri­ous to see how every­thing un­folds.”

In a nod to Simp­son’s celebrity, of­fi­cials will let the pro­ceed­ings be streamed live, and the board plans a same-day rul­ing. A de­ci­sion usu­ally takes sev­eral days.

Lau­rie Leven­son, a Loy­ola Law School pro­fes­sor and long­time Simp­son case an­a­lyst, pre­dicted a “tsunami” of pub­lic at­ten­tion if Simp­son wins re­lease.

“If this is the or­di­nary case, he will be paroled,” Leven­son said. “But O.J. is never the or­di­nary case.”

Al Lasso, a Las Ve­gas de­fence at­tor­ney who has fol­lowed the case but does not rep­re­sent Simp­son, said any other de­fen­dant in a sim­i­lar case prob­a­bly would have got­ten pro­ba­tion, not prison.

“I think he spent more than enough time in prison for a rob­bery in which he didn’t even have a gun him­self,” Lasso said.

But Michael Shapiro, a New York de­fence lawyer who pro­vided com­men­tary dur­ing Simp­son’s con­vic­tion in Las Ve­gas in 2008 and his ac­quit­tal in Los An­ge­les in 1995, said free­dom was no cer­tainty.

“The judge be­lieved he got away with mur­der,” Shapiro said.

“That’s the ele­phant in the room. If the pa­role au­thor­i­ties feel the same way, he could be in trou­ble.”

AP PHOTO

O.J. Simp­son sits dur­ing a break on the sec­ond day of an ev­i­den­tiary hear­ing in Clark County Dis­trict Court in Las Ve­gas May 14, 2013.

AP PHOTO

O.J. Simp­son holds up his hands be­fore the jury af­ter putting on a new pair of gloves sim­i­lar to the in­fa­mous bloody gloves dur­ing his dou­ble-mur­der trial in Los An­ge­les on June 21, 1995.

AP PHOTO

At­tor­ney John­nie Cochran Jr., right, holds onto O.J. Simp­son as the not guilty ver­dict is read in a Los An­ge­les court­room Oct. 3, 1995.

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