I was glad the Nevada Board of Parole gave O.J. Simpson his freedom back with its decision on Thursday. It felt right to me. There. I said it.
Now I better explain, and fast, because I can already sense the outcry. Surely I’m in the minority on this, surrounded by the angry incredulity of those who can’t believe that “murderer” is going to be let out of jail.
The American judicial system is flawed. Yes. It runs on fallibility. Police and lawyers and judges and juries sometimes make mistakes or are simply incompetent. There are falsely accused who have been convicted, and there are guilty walking free. Yes, I think Simpson literally got away with murder — double murder — with that stunning not guilty verdict on Oct. 3, 1995, a ruling that divided the country largely along racial lines. I have also shook my head in disbelief more recently, and more than once, at the acquittal of white police officers who killed unarmed black men, an outrage that spawned the Black Lives Matter movement and led to Colin Kaepernick’s activism.
I cannot entirely trust the system, but neither can I find a better one. The one we have must heal itself, become color blind and equal to all as its ideals espouse, in order to earn back the faith of the people. Is it possible? I thought the rendering of that Nevada parole board Thursday was a step in the right direction. Ironically so, because what it did that was right is why so many people objected.
The most important part of the 75-minute hearing, to me, was when one of the parole commissioners said the board had received “hundreds” of letters in support and opposition of Simpson being paroled, admitting that most opposing it had referenced those double murder charges. The commissioner then said: “That 1995 acquittal and subsequent civil judgments will not be considered.”
You might hate that, but it was right. The American people (or at least many white ones) might have convicted Simpson of double murder, but that jury did not. Period.
Blinders can be uncomfortable to wear, but sometimes we must put them on.
In this case the four people on that parole board were duty-bound to consider only whether Simpson had earned parole for the crime that put him behind bars: orchestrating the armed robbery of two men in a Nevada hotel room to take back memorabilia of his that had been stolen from him. He was sentenced to between nine and 33 years. He will have served nine when he is released as early as Oct. 1.
He still has not served enough time if you believe this sentence was delayed punishment for murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman — a measure of justice, after all..
But nine years seems a reasonable sentence for what he was convicted of. That’s a long time. When Simpson began serving his sentence in 2008 Tony Sparano and Randy Shannon were the big football coaches in town, and we didn’t even want them fired yet.
After the hearing but before the decision to grant Simpson’s parole was announced, ESPN analysts complained Simpson didn’t seem contrite enough, seemed cocky, leading viewers to think the parole would be denied. They were dead wrong. I didn’t see or hear any of that attitude they mentioned.
I heard inmate No. 1027820, a man who just turned 70, express remorse. He had been a model prisoner. He was judged a “low risk” as a future threat to society. No victim or prosecutor opposed his release.
“I’ve missed a lot of time,” he said at one point. “Thirty-six birthdays with my [four] children.”
Again, I get it. If you believe he did that double murder, sympathy is a hard sell. But for those who wish Simpson would have died in jail, there is this solace:
Will he ever really be free? Even when he’s free?
He will return to a semblance of normalcy, playing a bunch of golf, maybe even turning up as a reality TV star, who knows. (And maybe that golf will be in Miami; he indicated plans to settle in Florida). But he will spend the rest of his life cloaked in notoriety, seen as a murderer and pariah to many.
His name will forever be disgraced, his face on the poster for “Fall from Grace.”
Heisman Trophy winner. Buffalo Bills superstar running back. Actor. Broadcaster. Famous and adored.
Then he’s in a white Ford Bronco, charged with double murder, acquitted but still guilty. Then he’s in jail for real.
Who else in the public eye has fallen that far, that hard? Joe Paterno and Bill Cosby come to mind. To a degree, Lance Armstrong, even Tiger Woods.
With O.J. it’s murkier, because his greatest notoriety is something for which he was (officially) not guilty.
He’s still serving a life sentence after being convicted by public opinion on those charges, and ineligible for parole.