Coming soon: O.J., out of jail

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Nancy Ar­mour nar­mour@us­ato­day.com

The next film you see of O.J. Simp­son is likely to be footage of him leav­ing prison.

Fas­ci­na­tion with the dis­graced Pro Foot­ball Hall of Famer re­mains strong, as ev­i­denced by a doc­u­men­tary about him win­ning an Os­car on Sun­day. That is not to be con­fused with the tele­vi­sion minis­eries that dom­i­nated the Em­mys last fall.

Twenty-some years af­ter the so-called “Trial of the Cen­tury,” Simp­son re­mains ev­ery­where and nowhere, a pow­er­ful per­sona with no phys­i­cal pres­ence. But that is about to change: Some­time this year, Simp­son is likely to be­come a free man for the first time in nearly a decade.

“I’ve known peo­ple that have served time with him, and he has a good rep­u­ta­tion for get­ting along and do­ing what’s right,” said Gre­gory Knapp, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor in Las Ve­gas who is now a crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­ney.

“I can’t imag­ine any pos­si­bil­ity of him be­ing de­nied pa­role.”

Simp­son is not serv­ing time for the mur­ders of his for­mer wife and her friend; he was ac­quit­ted of crim­i­nal charges in 1995 but later was found li­able for their deaths in civil court. In­stead, it was an armed con­fronta­tion with mem­o­ra­bilia col­lec­tors in 2007 that landed him in a medium-se­cu­rity prison in a re­mote cor­ner of north­west­ern Ne­vada.

Sen­tenced to from nine to 33 years for armed rob­bery and kid­nap­ping, Simp­son was granted pa­role three years ago on five of the charges. The re­main­der, which in­clude en­hance­ments for use of weapons, meant he was not to be eli­gi­ble for re­lease un­til this year, with a pa­role hear­ing be­ing held as early as July.

But that de­ci­sion in his previous pa­role hear­ing gives a good in­di­ca­tion of why Simp­son is likely to be freed in Oc­to­ber.

The Ne­vada Board of Pa­role Com­mis­sion­ers uses an 11-item check­list to as­sess an in­mate’s risk, as­sign­ing points based on each an­swer. An in­mate who was em­ployed full time for more than a year at the time of their ar­rest gets zero points, for ex­am­ple, while some­one who was un­em­ployed gets two. Be­ing un­der 21 is worth two points while those 41 or older — Simp­son will be 70 on July 9 — can sub­tract a point. The fewer points an in­mate amasses, the less risk he or she is. Simp­son to­taled three points on his last as­sess­ment, putting him in the lowrisk cat­e­gory, and that’s not likely to have changed.

The com­mis­sion­ers will ask about Simp­son’s job at the prison — he works in the gym, clean­ing equip­ment and su­per­vis­ing other in­mates — and how well he has adapted. Three years ago, Simp­son de­scribed him­self as a model pris­oner, some­one who tried to help oth­ers stay out of trou­ble.

“Be­cause, I guess, my age, guys come to me,” Simp­son said dur­ing the July 2013 hear­ing. “I’m sure the pow­ers here know that I ad­vise a lot of guys. And I like to feel that I’ve kept a lot of trou­ble from hap­pen­ing since I’ve been here by get­ting in­volved in some con­flicts that some of the in­di­vid­u­als here have had.”

Mostly, though, Knapp said, the pa­role board will want to see re­morse, an in­di­ca­tion that Simp­son will not be a threat to his vic- tims or any­one else if he’s re­leased. That Simp­son has al­ready ex­pressed that — “I am sorry for what has hap­pened. … I just wish I’d have never gone to that room,” he said three years ago — makes the de­ci­sion this time around that much eas­ier.

Simp­son needs at least four of the seven com­mis­sion­ers to vote for pa­role in or­der to be freed. Ne­vada’s grant rate is about 52%.

“With­out a crim­i­nal his­tory, as long as he’s been be­hav­ing him­self, I think he’s go­ing to do re­ally well,” Knapp said. And then what? Though he still owes $33.5 mil­lion to the fam­i­lies of Ni­cole Brown and Ron­ald Gold­man, Simp­son can con­tinue to shield many of his as­sets. His NFL pen­sion, es­ti­mated by Sports Il­lus-

trated to be worth as much as $25,000 a month, is pro­tected by law from cred­i­tors.

Simp­son is free to live where he wants — pro­vided his post­prison plans are ap­proved by Ne­vada’s Divi­sion of Pa­role and Probation and the state where he wants to move. He had moved to Florida be­fore he was im­pris­oned be­cause laws there pre­vented his house from be­ing seized.

Re­gard­less of when he is re­leased or where he goes, one thing is cer­tain: It will all play out in front of the cam­eras. Where O.J. Simp­son is con­cerned, the chase never ends.

2013 PHOTO BY JULIE JA­COB­SON, AP

Con­victed in 2008, O.J. Simp­son could be re­leased from prison this year.

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