By Greg Botelho
O.J. Simpson is 66 and has spent nearly all of his seventh decade in a Nevada prison after his conviction on kidnapping, armed robbery and other charges for busting into a Las Vegas casino to try to reclaim items he felt were rightfully his.
And he’s had enough.
His nearly five years in custody “have been somewhat illuminating at times and painful a lot of times,” Simpson told two Nevada parole board members Thursday via closed-circuit TV from prison.
“I missed my two younger kids who worked hard getting through high school, I missed their college graduations,” he said, seemingly emotional as he talked. “I missed my sister’s funeral. I missed all the birthdays.”
The football legend could learn whether he’ll have less time to spend in prison in two weeks, when the parole board comes back with its decision.
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Years of challenges after trials are over
If a majority of the seven on the parole board vote in his favor, he’ll have some hope but won’t be free, according to multiple reports, including from CNN affiliates KSNV and KTNV. That’s because he’d still have to serve more of his term — at least four years more, according to these reports.
In his worst case scenario, Simpson remains behind bars for decades more. After his 2008 conviction, he was sentenced to up to 33 years in prison.
Simpson portrayed himself as a model inmate since his arrival, saying he had promised prison officials “I would be the best prisoner they have ever had here, (and) I think, for the most part, I’ve kept my word on that.”
Recalling conversations with other inmates, specifically the many like him who are incarcerated for trying to rob others, Simpson said his case stands out — and, because of that, he should have his prison term cut.
“The difference between all of their crimes and mine is that they were trying to steal other people’s property, they were trying to steal other people’s money,” the pro football hall-of-famer argued. “My crime was trying to retrieve, for my family, my own property.”
A Nevada jury, however, didn’t see it that way. They convicted him on October 3, 2008 — the 13th anniversary of his controversial acquittal in the 1994 killings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman.
The former Heisman Trophy winner, record-setting NFL running back and movie actor had enlisted the help of Clarence “C.J.” Stewart and four others to get sports memorabilia that Simpson claimed belonged to him from dealers Bruce Fromong and Al Beardsley.
The six men confronted the dealers in a room at Las Vegas’ Palace Station Hotel and Casino on September 13, 2007, brandishing weapons but not firing them.
Four of those men testified against Simpson — each getting probation in exchange for his testimony — while Stewart stood trial alongside him.
So does Simpson regret what he did?
On Thursday, as he did during his trial and has in subsequent appeals, he went on the defensive.
Simpson said he’d talked with his kids, his sister and his brother-in-law — the latter two, he said, “were originally going to go with me” — before going to the hotel. He also talked with two lawyers, one he knew and another he didn’t.
“My intent was not to rob from anybody,” said the onetime University of Southern California and Buffalo Bill great. “I knew both of these guys who had my stuff. I was a little upset with them, and I think I wasn’t as civil as I should have been.”
One mistake he admits: Bringing “some guys with me who I didn’t know and one I didn’t trust.”
“And that’s on me,” Simpson said. “For that, I’ve been here for five years.”
Tony Bommarito was one of those who didn’t buy similar arguments during Simpson’s trial. While Bommarito was an alternate juror, he did agree with the verdict.
Talking with CNN earlier this week before Thursday’s parole board hearing, Bommarito didn’t say specifically whether he thought Simpson should walk free now. But he did say the 33-year maximum sentence “seems like a lot for what he did in that scenario.”
“I would have thought 10 or 15 years,” Bommarito said. “(The longer sentence) made me think that … was there some bias there, maybe? Maybe they were thinking about the old trial?”