O.J. Simpson will stare into a camera set up in a conference room inside the Lovelock Correctional Institute on Thursday and make his case why four members of the Nevada Parole Board, watching 100 miles away, should set him free. To be successful, he’ll likely have to display an emotion the public has rarely seen from him.
No disdain. No defensiveness. No dismissiveness. No denials.
“When it comes to parole hearings, there is a one-word golden rule: remorse,” said attorney Gabriel L. Grasso, who served as a local co-counsel for Simpson in the 2008 robbery trial. Simpson was found guilty on multiple charges and given a 9- to 33-year sentence that Simpson is now seeking to end.
The Nevada parole board will determine if Simpson is eligible to be released on Oct. 1. A decision is expected immediately. The entire proceeding will be televised nationally, including a live stream here.
Much of the decision is arbitrary, courtesy of a point system determined by Simpson’s prison disciplinary record and prior conduct. Simpson, 70, is expected to perform extremely well on that. He was deemed a model prisoner when he won parole in 2013 on other charges associated with the case, a cartoonish 2007 robbery of a memorabilia dealer in a Las Vegas hotel room.
If nothing has changed, then that leaves only what Grasso called, “the O.J. factor.”
Would the parole board be hesitant about letting out one of America’s most infamous accused criminals? It’s one thing to grant parole when you know the inmate still has to serve out additional convictions. It’s another when the entire country is focused on the pending freedom of a man many believe unfairly beat a double-murder wrap in 1995 for the deaths of Ron Goldman and Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown.
“Parole board members are generally the most boring, milquetoast bureaucrats,” Grasso said. “They are not flashy people, not media people. They usually work in silence and anonymity. What I’ve heard from other attorneys is they don’t like what’s going on and don’t like being in the limelight.”
If you are Simpson, you don’t give them any reason to take that out on you.
Yes, the Vegas robbery case was foolish – Simpson was essentially stealing back his own stuff from some two-bit hustlers. And yes the sentence was excessive, the presence of a gun (not used by Simpson) allowed for years to be added on and Simpson to get far more time than everyone else.
It doesn’t matter now.
“You know in the movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ when Red went before the parole board,” said Grasso, who is not representing Simpson in the parole hearing. “Every time he went and denied his involvement or kept arguing about the case, he was denied. When he went and said, ‘Yep, I did it, I admit it all and I’m a changed man,’ they released him.
“For O.J., he needs to basically go in and say, ‘I did it. I was wrong. I accept responsibility. Look at all the good I did in prison. I am a changed person. These nine years in prison have made me a better person. May I please be let out,’ ” Grasso continued. “There can’t be any bull crap about, ‘I shouldn’t have ever been in there, these other guys got shorter sentences’ or anything like that.
“If he accepts it, he’ll almost certainly get out.”
Can O.J. pull that off? Grasso thinks so. First off, he might actually be sorry. Even if he isn’t, Simpson is a gifted communicator – a former sports broadcaster, commercial pitchman and Hollywood actor. He can play any role. He’s also smart. He knows how to work the game.
Simpson has rarely accepted any responsibility or expressed any regret over his actions with Nicole Brown Simpson – not merely the murder he was acquitted for, but prior incidents of domestic violence. However, he was humble and purposeful in his 2013 parole Nevada hearing.
“He’s an eloquent person,” Grasso said.
Besides what appears to be a sterling conduct record while in Lovelock, the remote northern Nevada prison, Simpson has a few other advantages, Grasso said. One is the severity of the sentence in the first place, up to 33 years for someone with no prior felonies (he was acquitted back in California, remember).
“It’s going to play a role here,” Grasso said. “You have a 70-year-old man with no priors and he got whacked at trial sentencing. They are more likely under those circumstances to grant parole.”
The lengthy sentence stands out because after the first day of the trial, Judge Jackie Glass encouraged a plea deal to be reached, according to Grasso. The prosecution case was in tatters early, with the first witness expressing a measure of sympathy for Simpson and the second needing to be hauled out of court on a stretcher as he complained about chest pains. The chance Simpson might win again was a real possibility.
As a result, Clark County prosecutors offered a deal calling for a minimum two-year sentence. Grasso believed the offer was conveyed to Simpson via the lead attorney, Yale Galanter. Years later, Simpson sought a new trial by declaring Galanter offered ineffective counsel, including not telling him of the plea deal. (Grasso testified for Simpson’s side in that case, which was denied.)
Grasso said his experience trying some 140 jury trials across the country suggests Simpson wouldn’t have accepted it even if he were notified because he probably would have thought he could beat the charges.
“He would have never taken it,” Grasso said. “I’ve represented a number of clients who previously won cases and when you get a client who has won before, they are impossible to get to take a plea. They think they walk on water.”
As such, when the jury eventually found Simpson guilty, he was in trouble. While conventional wisdom is that Judge Glass piled on the years out of spite for the not-guilty verdicts back in 1995, Grasso said that is only one possibility.
Being O.J. certainly didn’t help on sentencing day, but being anyone is problematic, too.
“Anytime you put a court through a trial and you lose, you’re going to get whacked at the end of that trial,” Grasso said. “So often the judge just looks across the sentencing sheet and says, ‘What’s the maximum?’ That’s why in some cases you can get probation if you plead guilty but if you take it to trial and are found guilty, you get 20 years.”
The result was Simpson getting a minimum of nine years, which are up on October 1. He’s reportedly done everything necessary to walk out then.
There is just one more thing to do Thursday. Show some rare remorse and O.J. Simpson could be a free man again.
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