By KEN RITTER , Associated Press
LOVELOCK, Nev. (AP) — A gray-haired O.J. Simpson went before a Nevada parole board Thursday to plead for release after more than eight years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel room heist, making his case in a nationally televised hearing that reflected America's enduring fascination with the former football star.
A vote in his favor would enable Simpson, now 70, to get out 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 he claimed had been stolen from him.
The Hall of Fame athlete's chances of success 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.
Several major TV networks and cable channels — including ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox, MSNBC and ESPN — planned to carry 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.
Inmate No. 1027820, wearing prison-issue jeans, white T-shirt and blue button-down shirt, made his plea for freedom in a stark hearing room at the Lovelock Correctional Center in rural Nevada as four parole commissioners in Carson City, a two-hour drive away, questioned him via video. The board was expected to make its decision later in the day.
Simpson was expected to argue that he has stayed out of trouble, coaches in the prison gym and counsels fellow inmates.
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.
One of the dealers robbed, Bruce Fromong, planned to attend the parole hearing, saying he and Simpson had made amends and that he intended to speak in favor of release.
A Goldman family spokesman said Goldman's father and sister, Fred and Kim, would not be part of the hearing and feel apprehensive about "how this will change their lives again should Simpson be released."
The now-retired district attorney who prosecuted Simpson for the heist, David Roger, has denied Simpson's sentence was "payback" for his murder acquittal. He has also said that if Simpson behaved in prison, he should get parole.