O.J. still serv­ing life de­spite ac­quit­tal

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - THE SECOND PAGE - GREG COTE

I was glad the Ne­vada Board of Pa­role gave O.J. Simp­son his free­dom back with its de­ci­sion Thurs­day. It felt right to me. There. I said it.

Now I better ex­plain, and fast, be­cause I can al­ready sense the out­cry. Surely I’m in the mi­nor­ity on this, sur­rounded by the an­gry in­credulity of those who can’t be­lieve that “mur­derer” is go­ing to be let out of jail.

The Amer­i­can ju­di­cial sys­tem is flawed. Yes. It runs on fal­li­bil­ity. Po­lice and lawyers and judges and ju­ries some­times make mis­takes or are sim­ply in­com­pe­tent. There are falsely ac­cused who have been con­victed, and there are guilty walk­ing free. Yes, I think Simp­son lit­er­ally got away with mur­der — dou­ble mur­der — with that stun­ning not guilty ver­dict on Oct. 3, 1995, a rul­ing that di­vided the coun­try largely along racial lines. I have also shook my head in dis­be­lief more re­cently, and more than once, at the ac­quit­tal of white po­lice of­fi­cers who killed un­armed black men, an out­rage that spawned the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and led to Colin Kaeper­nick’s ac­tivism.

I can­not en­tirely trust the sys­tem, nor can I find a better one. The one we have must heal it­self, become color blind and equal to all as its ideals es­pouse, in or­der to earn back the faith of the people. Is it pos­si­ble? I thought the ren­der­ing of that Ne­vada pa­role board Thurs­day was a step in the right di­rec­tion. Iron­i­cally so, be­cause what it did that was right is why so many people ob­jected.

The most im­por­tant part of the 75-minute hear­ing, to me, was when one of the pa­role com­mis­sion­ers said the board had re­ceived “hun­dreds” of let­ters in sup­port and op­po­si­tion of Simp­son be­ing paroled, ad­mit­ting that most op­pos­ing it had ref­er­enced those dou­ble mur­der charges. The com­mis­sioner then said: “That 1995 ac­quit­tal and sub­se­quent civil judg­ments will not be con­sid­ered.”

You might hate that, but it was right. The Amer­i­can people (or at least many white ones) might have con­victed Simp­son of dou­ble mur­der, but that jury did not. Pe­riod.

Blin­ders can be un­com­fort­able to wear, but some­times we must put them on.

In this case the four people on that pa­role board were duty-bound to con­sider only whether Simp­son had earned pa­role for the crime that put him be­hind bars: or­ches­trat­ing the armed rob­bery of two men in a Ne­vada ho­tel room to take back mem­o­ra­bilia of his that had been stolen from him. He was sen­tenced to be­tween nine and 33 years. He will have served nine when he is re­leased as early as Oct. 1.

He still has not served enough time if you be­lieve this sen­tence was de­layed pun­ish­ment for mur­der­ing Ni­cole Brown Simp­son and Ron Gold­man — a mea­sure of jus­tice, af­ter all.

But nine years seems a rea­son­able sen­tence for what he was con­victed of. That’s a long time. When Simp­son be­gan serv­ing his sen­tence in 2008, Tony Sparano and Randy Shannon were the big foot­ball coaches in town, and we didn’t even want them fired yet.

Af­ter the hear­ing but be­fore the de­ci­sion to grant Simp­son’s pa­role was an­nounced, ESPN an­a­lysts com­plained Simp­son didn’t seem con­trite enough, seemed cocky, lead­ing view­ers to think the pa­role would be de­nied. They were dead wrong. I didn’t see or hear any of that at­ti­tude they men­tioned.

I heard in­mate No. 1027820, a man who just turned 70, ex­press re­morse. He had been a model pris­oner. He was judged a “low risk” as a fu­ture threat to so­ci­ety. No vic­tim or pros­e­cu­tor op­posed his re­lease.

“I’ve missed a lot of time,” he said at one point. “Thirty-six birth­days with my [four] chil­dren.”

Again, I get it. If you be­lieve he did that dou­ble mur­der, sym­pa­thy is a hard sell. But for those who wish Simp­son would have died in jail, there is this so­lace:

Will he ever re­ally be free? Even when he’s free?

He will re­turn to a sem­blance of nor­malcy, play­ing a bunch of golf, maybe even turn­ing up as a re­al­ity TV star, who knows. (And maybe that golf will be in Miami; he in­di­cated plans to set­tle in Florida). But he will spend the rest of his life cloaked in no­to­ri­ety, seen as a mur­derer and pariah to many.

His name will for­ever be dis­graced, his face on the poster for “Fall from Grace.”

Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner. Buf­falo Bills su­per­star run­ning back. Ac­tor. Broad­caster. Fa­mous and adored.

Then he’s in a white Ford Bronco, charged with dou­ble mur­der, ac­quit­ted but still guilty. Then he’s in jail for real.

Who else in the pub­lic eye has fallen that far, that hard? Joe Paterno and Bill Cosby come to mind. To a de­gree, Lance Arm­strong, even Tiger Woods.

With O.J. it’s murkier, be­cause his great­est no­to­ri­ety is some­thing for which he was (of­fi­cially) not guilty.

He’s still serv­ing a life sen­tence af­ter be­ing con­victed by pub­lic opin­ion on those charges, and in­el­i­gi­ble for pa­role.

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