O.J. Simpson is a free man once again. And it didn’t take long for cameras to find him.
The former football star, and centerpiece of one of the most spectacular and controversial murder trials in American history, was released from a Nevada prison on Sunday morning. He’d been serving time for his involvement in a September 2007 robbery in Las Vegas. Simpson was scheduled to be released Monday morning, but Nevada authorities released him just eight minutes after he was eligible for release, apparently in order to avoid a media crush.
“We needed to do this to ensure public safety and to avoid any possible incident,” Nevada Department of Corrections spokesperson Brooke Keast said, according to the Associated Press.
A cameraman caught up with Simpson, who was headed to Las Vegas. Sitting in the backseat of a car at a gas station, Simpson largely declined to comment, but said, “I’ve been in a car for the last five hours, so how do I know what it feels to be out?” Simpson asked the inquiring cameraman. “I’ve been in nowhere U.S.A. for the last nine years doing nothing. Nothing has changed in my life.”
Simpson was not in prison for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The two were killed in June 1994, and Simpson went on trial shortly afterward. That trial consumed the nation’s attention for most of the next year, and ended with Simpson’s highly controversial acquittal. Simpson was later found civilly liable for the murders, but no other suspect has been criminally tried in the case.
After his acquittal, Simpson spent years on the fringes of celebrity, unable to rejoin the glamorous worlds where he’d once walked and unable to outrun the shadow of the trials. He fell in with an increasingly questionable series of characters. Bad decision after bad decision led him to a hotel room in Las Vegas in 2007, where he was attempting to recover property he claimed had been stolen from him. Over the course of a six-minute standoff with a memorabilia dealer, one of Simpson’s associates pulled a gun, and the dealer wasn’t permitted to leave the room, leading to armed kidnapping and other charges against Simpson. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to nine to 33 years in prison.
Simpson’s first opportunity for parole came in July of this year, and his hearing before the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners, broadcast live on television, proved a fascinating look at how Simpson viewed the world. Simpson never testified during his celebrated criminal trial, and so the parole hearing gave the world a look at what might have been: a charismatic yet focused man wondering why others weren’t as convinced of his innocence as he was. “I believe I’ve led a conflict-free life,” Simpson said at that hearing, an absurd contention yet one he appeared to believe.
“I have been here for nine years, and I have not made any excuses,” Simpson said in his closing remarks during the hearing. “I am sorry things turned out the way they did. I had no intent to commit a crime … I said I would not be a problem [at the prison], and I believe I have kept my word.”
The board debated for only a short time before unanimously voting to grant Simpson parole, another example — like his release time — of Simpson receiving expedited, special treatment because of the continued media attention to his case. Simpson has remained an interest for America, with both an Oscar-winning documentary and an Emmy-winning dramatic re-creation of the trial airing last year.
That interest, of course, brings up the question of what Simpson will do now. “I could stay in Nevada,” Simpson joked during the hearing, “but I don’t think you want me here.”
Simpson has indicated he’ll return to Florida, where he still has a residence, and has said he hopes to get back on the golf course. But he still must abide by the rules of Nevada’s parole system or risk a return to prison. He’s also under the financial restrictions of the civil lawsuit; he’s liable for a $33.5 million verdict against him from the Goldman family, but it’s uncertain how much of that, if any, he’s paid.
Simpson will likely return to television soon; producers are surely already angling to get the first post-prison Simpson interview, and he’s shown he’s amenable to the spotlight. Regardless of whether Simpson ends up with his own reality series, or simply shows up occasionally in Twitter selfies, another chapter in one of the more riveting stories in American history is about to begin.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
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