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O.J. Simpson granted parole after nearly 9 years in prison

Associated Press logo Associated Press 7/20/2017 By KEN RITTER, Associated Press
Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson reacts after learning he was granted parole at Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool) © The Associated Press Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson reacts after learning he was granted parole at Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool)

LOVELOCK, Nev. (AP) — O.J. Simpson was granted parole Thursday after more than eight years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel heist, successfully making his case in a nationally televised hearing that reflected America's enduring fascination with the former football star.

Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson reacts after learning he was granted parole at Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool) © The Associated Press Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson reacts after learning he was granted parole at Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool)

Simpson, 70, could be a free man as early as Oct. 1. By then, he will have served the minimum of his nine-to-33-year armed-robbery sentence for a bungled attempt to snatch sports memorabilia and other mementos he claimed had been stolen from him.

CORRECTS SPELLING FROM ARIELLE TO ARNELLE - O.J. Simpson's sister Shirley Baker, center, daughter Arnelle Simpson, left, and friend Tom Scotto react after O.J. Simpson was granted parole at Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool) © The Associated Press CORRECTS SPELLING FROM ARIELLE TO ARNELLE - O.J. Simpson's sister Shirley Baker, center, daughter Arnelle Simpson, left, and friend Tom Scotto react after O.J. Simpson was granted parole at Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool)

All four parole commissioners who conducted the hearing voted for his release after about a half-hour of deliberations. They cited his lack of a prior conviction, the low risk he might commit another crime, his community support and his release plans, which include moving to Florida.

CORRECTS SOURCE TO KOLO-TV - Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (KOLO-TV via AP, Pool) © The Associated Press CORRECTS SOURCE TO KOLO-TV - Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (KOLO-TV via AP, Pool)

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Simpson said quietly as he buried his head on his chest with relief. As he rose from his seat to return to his prison cell, he exhaled deeply.

Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson enters for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool) © The Associated Press Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson enters for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool)

Then, as he was led down a hall, the former athlete raised his hands over his head in a victory gesture and said, "Oh, God, oh!"

Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson enters for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool) © The Associated Press Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson enters for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool)

Simpson's sister, Shirley Baker, wept and hugged Simpson's 48-year-old daughter Arnelle, who held a hand over her mouth.

Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears with his attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, left, via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool) © The Associated Press Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears with his attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, left, via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool)

During the more than hour-long hearing, Simpson forcefully insisted — as he has all along — that he was only trying to retrieve items that belonged to him and never meant to hurt anyone. He said he never pointed a gun at anyone nor made any threats during the crime.

CORRECTS SOURCE TO KOLO-TV - Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears with his attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, left, via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (KOLO-TV via AP, Pool) © The Associated Press CORRECTS SOURCE TO KOLO-TV - Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears with his attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, left, via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (KOLO-TV via AP, Pool)
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"I'm sorry it happened, I'm sorry, Nevada," he told the board. "I thought I was glad to get my stuff back, but it just wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth it, and I'm sorry."

CORRECTS SOURCE TO KOLO-TV - Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (KOLO-TV via AP) © The Associated Press CORRECTS SOURCE TO KOLO-TV - Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (KOLO-TV via AP)

Inmate No. 1027820 made his plea for freedom in a stark hearing room at the Lovelock Correctional Center in rural Nevada as the four parole commissioners in Carson City, a two-hour drive away, questioned him via video.

FILE - In this March 24, 1978 file photo, O.J. Simpson, left, smiles next to San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. at a news conference where the 49ers announced that Simpson had been traded to them from the Buffalo Bills, in San Francisco. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo/Sal Veder, file) © The Associated Press FILE - In this March 24, 1978 file photo, O.J. Simpson, left, smiles next to San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. at a news conference where the 49ers announced that Simpson had been traded to them from the Buffalo Bills, in San Francisco. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo/Sal Veder, file)

Gray-haired but looking trimmer than he has in recent years, Simpson walked briskly into the hearing room in jeans, a light-blue prison-issue shirt and sneakers. He chuckled at one point as the parole board chairwoman mistakenly gave his age as 90.

FILE - In this May 15, 2013 file photo, O.J. Simpson returns to the witness stand to testify after a break during an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool, file) © The Associated Press FILE - In this May 15, 2013 file photo, O.J. Simpson returns to the witness stand to testify after a break during an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool, file)

The Hall of Fame athlete's chances of winning release were considered good, given similar cases and Simpson's model behavior behind bars. His defenders have argued, too, that his sentence was out of proportion to the crime and that he was being punished for the two murders he was acquitted of during his 1995 "Trial of the Century" in Los Angeles, the stabbings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

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FILE - In this June 15, 1995 file photo, O.J. Simpson, left, grimaces as he tries on one of the leather gloves prosecutors say he wore the night his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered in a Los Angeles courtroom. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo/Sam Mircovich, Pool, file) © The Associated Press FILE - In this June 15, 1995 file photo, O.J. Simpson, left, grimaces as he tries on one of the leather gloves prosecutors say he wore the night his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered in a Los Angeles courtroom. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo/Sam Mircovich, Pool, file)

Before the hearing concluded, one of the two memorabilia dealers Simpson robbed, Bruce Fromong, said the former football great never pointed a gun at him during the confrontation, adding that it was one of Simpson's accomplices. Fromong said Simpson deserved to be released so he can be with his children.

FILE - In this Sept. 3, 1977 file photo, Buffalo Bills' O.J. Simpson (32) runs past Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Council Rudolph (78) during an NFL football game in Buffalo, N.Y. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo, file) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Sept. 3, 1977 file photo, Buffalo Bills' O.J. Simpson (32) runs past Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Council Rudolph (78) during an NFL football game in Buffalo, N.Y. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo, file)

"He is a good man. He made a mistake," Fromong said, adding the two remain friends.

FILE - In this Oct. 3, 1995 file photo, attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr., right, holds onto O.J. Simpson as the not guilty verdict is read in a Los Angeles courtroom. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo/Pool, Myung J. Chun, file) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Oct. 3, 1995 file photo, attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr., right, holds onto O.J. Simpson as the not guilty verdict is read in a Los Angeles courtroom. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo/Pool, Myung J. Chun, file)

Arnelle Simpson, the eldest of Simpson's children, also testified on his behalf, saying her father is not perfect but realizes what a mistake he made and has spent years paying for it.

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FILE - In this May 6, 1980 file photo, O.J. Simpson, right, poses for photos with friend Nicole Brown at party in the Beverly Hills section of Los Angeles. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, file) © The Associated Press FILE - In this May 6, 1980 file photo, O.J. Simpson, right, poses for photos with friend Nicole Brown at party in the Beverly Hills section of Los Angeles. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017, seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, file)

"We just want him to come home, we really do," she said.

Simpson said that he has spent his time in prison mentoring fellow inmates, often keeping others out of trouble, and believes he has become a better person during those years.

"I've done my time. I've done it as well and respectfully as I think anybody can," he told the board.

Asked if he was confident he could stay out of trouble if released, Simpson replied that he learned a lot from an alternative-to-violence course he took in prison and that in any case he has always gotten along well with people.

"I had basically spent a conflict-free life," he said — a remark that lit up social media with sarcastic comments given the murder case and a raft of allegations he abused his wife.

Several major TV networks and cable channels — including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, MSNBC and ESPN — carried the proceedings live, just as some of them did two decades ago during the Ford Bronco chase that ended in Simpson's arrest, and again when the jury in the murder case came back with its verdict.

Simpson said if released he plans to return to Florida, where he was living before his incarceration.

"I could easily stay in Nevada, but I don't think you guys want me here," he joked at one point.

"No comment, sir," one of the parole board members said.

An electrifying running back dubbed "The Juice," Simpson won the Heisman Trophy as the nation's best college football player in 1968 and went on to become one of the NFL's all-time greats.

The handsome and charismatic athlete was also a "Monday Night Football" commentator, sprinted through airports in Hertz rental-car commercials and built a Hollywood career with roles in the "Naked Gun" comedies and other movies.

All of that came crashing down with his arrest in the 1994 slayings and his trial, a gavel-to-gavel live-TV sensation that transfixed viewers with its testimony about the bloody glove that didn't fit and stirred furious debate over racist police, celebrity justice and cameras in the courtroom.

Last year, the case proved to be compelling TV all over again with the ESPN documentary "O.J.: Made in America" and the award-winning FX miniseries "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story."

In 1997, Simpson was found liable in civil court for the two killings and ordered to pay $33.5 million to survivors, including his children and the Goldman family.

Then a decade later, he and five accomplices — two with guns — stormed a hotel room and seized photos, plaques and signed balls, some of which never belonged to Simpson, from two sports memorabilia dealers.

Simpson was convicted in 2008, and the long prison sentence brought a measure of satisfaction to some of those who thought he got away with murder.

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