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{UAH} O.J. Simpson Set to Be Freed, Parole Board Rules

O.J. Simpson, right, at his parole hearing with the Malcolm LaVergne at Lovelock Correctional Centre in Lovelock, Nevada, on July 20. CreditPool photo by Jason Bean/Reuters

O. J. Simpson, the former football hero and actor whose good-guy image vanished when he was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, will go free after serving nine years in a Nevada prison on charges stemming from an armed robbery, a state parole board ruled on Thursday.

Mr. Simpson, who turned 70 this month, went before the board as a man convicted of taking a group of accomplices, two of them armed with guns, to a cheap Las Vegas hotel room in 2007 to take hundreds of items from a sports memorabilia dealer. But it is the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, for which he was acquitted after the most-watched trial in history, that have cast the longer, darker shadow over his life and reputation.

After his conviction in 2008, a judge sentenced Mr. Simpson nine to 33 years in state prison, meaning that he becomes eligible for parole for the first time on Oct. 1. Based on his age and the fact that he has been a model prisoner, the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners granted his release the first time it was considered, rather than denying parole and making him wait years for another chance.

What happened at the hearing

• Mr. Simpson, wearing a light blue denim shirt and looking considerably thinner than at a hearing in 2013, walked into the hearing just after 1 p.m. Eastern. As the chairwoman of the parole board, Connie Bisbee, read the charges he was convicted of, he heaved a sigh and grimaced.

When Ms. Bisbee slipped and said Mr. Simpson was 90 years old, not 70, he said, "I feel like it, though."

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• Under questioning by parole commissioners, Mr. Simpson stuck to a version of the robbery that, as the board member Tony Corda said, "differs a little from the official record."

He insisted that the items he took from the memorabilia dealer, Bruce Fromong, whom he knew well, were his property. And he said he was not aware at the time that two of the men he took to the hotel room, whom he referred to as "security guys," brandished guns.

He said he had never brandished a weapon at anyone, and never would, adding, "I basically have spent a conflict-free life."

• Mr. Simpson's daughter Arnelle Simpson testified to the board on behalf of his family. "We just want him to come home," she said.

"My experience with him is that he's like my best friend and my rock," said Ms. Simpson, 48, who is the oldest of Mr. Simpson's four children. "I know that he is remorseful, he is truly remorseful."

Ms. Simpson and other members of his family live in California. Mr. Simpson lived most of his life in California, but in the years leading up to his conviction, he lived in Florida. He could gain approval to serve his parole in either state.

Background on his criminal and civil trials

Mr. Simpson's felony convictions came 13 years to the day after a Los Angeles jury found him not guilty of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman after one of the longest and most-watched criminal cases in history.

In 1997, in a civil trial, another jury found that Mr. Simpson was responsible for their deaths, and awarded their families $33.5 million in damages; he has paid a tiny fraction of that amount.

The shadow of the murders

What makes Mr. Simpson's case unique, of course, is that people watching it have a different case in mind, the 1994 double murder.

It did not help matters that the 2007 robbery occurred on the same day as the release of "If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer," a book based on interviews Mr. Simpson gave, describing — in theory, hypothetically — how he could have carried out the murders.

One of his lawyers, Yale Galanter, has said that the charges filed against Mr. Simpson were excessive, and has suggested that the prosecutors and jurors were influenced by the earlier case. Though jurors were prohibited from considering any outside factors, "my biggest concern was whether or not the jury would be able to separate their very strong feelings about Mr. Simpson and judge him fairly and honestly," Mr. Galanter said after the 2008 conviction.

The Clark County district attorney at the time, David J. Roger, and members of the jury have insisted that their actions were no more than a reflection of the crimes Mr. Simpson committed in that Las Vegas hotel.

Unanimous vote is required

If Mr. Simpson is released, the board could require him to go to a halfway house, or impose other terms on him. If he violates those terms, he could return to prison and serve up to the full 33-year sentence, minus time credited for good conduct.

If the board denies Mr. Simpson parole, it will decide how long he must wait until his next hearing, but it cannot be more than five years. An inmate of Mr. Simpson's age, and with his status as a model prisoner, would typically win release.

The four-member panel must be unanimous to make a decision. If they are divided, the other two commissioners are polled, and then a simple majority can rule.

Eyes turn to a remote prison

The Lovelock prison sits on a patch of scrubland, bordered by mountains, in the remote high desert of northern Nevada — a location that is usually too far often the beaten path to draw much attention.

But on Thursday, about 130 news media people, with dozens of cameras and satellite trucks, gathered outside the walls, in addition to the select few who were allowed inside.

Corrections officers, sheriff's deputies, SWAT teams and state troopers formed a heavy security cordon, stopping approaching vehicles long before they reached the prison. Though no protesters had gathered by the time the hearing began, officials braced for possible strong reactions, no matter what the board decides.

Biographies point a spotlight

After years of slowly fading into obscurity, Mr. Simpson was shoved back into the spotlight last year by two high-profile television projects. ESPN's "O. J.: Made in America," a multipart, nearly eight-hour documentary that won an Academy Award, spanned his life story: poor child in San Francisco, sports star in college and the N.F.L., charming pitchman and actor, abusive husband, California defendant and, finally, Nevada convict.

FX's "The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story," a mini-series dramatizing the murder investigation and trial, won several Emmy Awards.

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