LOS ANGELES: Disgraced American football star O.J. Simpson – who was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, but jailed for armed robbery years later – is expected to be granted his release Thursday after nearly nine years in prison.
Simpson, 70, could walk free as early as October 1 if a parole board in the western US state of Nevada rules in his favour.
Simpson was found not guilty in 1995 of the grisly murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a male companion, Ron Goldman, in a racially charged case which became known as the “Trial of the Century.”
But the former National Football League running back and actor was sent to prison in 2008 for his role in the September 2007 armed robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers at a Las Vegas resort.
On Thursday, a four-member panel of the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners will hold a hearing in Carson City to decide whether Simpson – Inmate No. 1027820 – should be granted parole.
Simpson will not personally attend the 10:00 am (1700 GMT) hearing but will appear by videoconference from the Lovelock Correctional Center, the medium-security prison where he is serving his sentence.
The panel will meet in private following the hearing and then reconvene for a vote.
If all four agree, Simpson’s release will be approved.
If not, the full seven-member parole board will be polled. Four votes are needed to either grant or deny parole.
Christopher Darden, who was a member of the team that unsuccessfully prosecuted Simpson for the 1994 double murder, and other legal observers said they expect him to go free.
“I think he has a lot to account for,” Darden told NBC’s “Today” show. “I imagine he will be granted parole, unfortunately.”
“You know, I like the photographs of O.J. in handcuffs more than I like the photographs of O.J. with a golf club in his hand,” the former prosecutor added.
Simpson was convicted in October 2008 of armed robbery, assault, kidnapping and other offenses after he and five associates – two of whom were armed – ambushed the two sports memorabilia dealers in a casino hotel room.
Simpson, who earned the nickname “The Juice” during his playing days, claimed he was trying to recover mementos from his career which he said the dealers had stolen.
A Las Vegas jury didn’t buy it. Simpson was sentenced to a minimum of nine years in prison and a maximum of 33 years.
Steve Wolfson, the current Clark County district attorney, told AFP he believes Simpson “makes an excellent candidate for parole.”
“The fact that he is a celebrity will have very little bearing, if any,” Wolfson said. “He’s not going to be treated differently by the parole commissioners.”
Bruce Fromong, one of the victims of the 2007 Las Vegas robbery, told CNN that he planned to testify at the hearing in favor of Simpson’s release.
“I never thought that the crime deserved that much time, that long of a sentence,” Fromong said.
Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson shot to fame in the 1970s with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills after winning the prestigious Heisman Trophy as a running back at the University of Southern California.
He retired from football in 1979 after setting numerous rushing records and went on to become an advertising pitchman and actor (“The Towering Inferno,” “The Naked Gun”).
In June 1994, Simpson’s 35-year-old ex-wife, Brown Simpson, and Goldman were found stabbed to death outside her Los Angeles home.
Simpson was arrested after a low-speed car chase through Los Angeles that was broadcast live by television stations and watched by millions.
He was acquitted in October 1995 after a nine-month trial, a verdict that was greeted with disbelief by many Americans.
Public views on the African-American athlete’s guilt or innocence divided sharply along racial lines.
Simpson was subsequently found liable for the deaths in a 1997 civil suit and was ordered to pay damages totaling $33.5 million to the families of the victims.
Simpson has been out of the limelight while behind bars, but fascination with the former football star lives on.
“O.J.: Made in America,” a nearly eight-hour documentary about his murder trial, won the best documentary Oscar in February.
And a television mini-series, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” starring Cuba Gooding Jr as the former NFL star, won nine Emmy awards.--AFP