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On the Eve of OJ Simpson's Parole Hearing - What Makes Him So Compelling?

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(AP Photo/Ethan Miller, Pool, File)

In this May 14, 2013 pool file photo, O.J. Simpson sits during a break on the second day of an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas. Simpson, the former football star, TV pitchman and now Nevada prison inmate, will have a lot going for him when he appears before state parole board members Thursday, July 20, 2017 seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia.

O.J. Simpson has been in prison – at Nevada’s Lovelock Correctional Facility, northeast of Reno -  for more than eight years.

Now there’s the possibility that he may be released.

This Thursday is his parole board hearing. Simpson will be in Lovelock. The Parole Board will be in Carson City. They’ll be linked via video conference.

With us to talk about O.J. Simpson is contributor John L. Smith. 

DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS:

Remind us what this trial was about:

This goes back to 2007 in September. O.J. Simpson was arrested basically for robbing memorabilia and using friends and allies and acolytes - two of whom were armed. He laughed it off initially, even after his arrest. He gave interviews to major newspapers, saying this is a joke and it was his memorabilia and he was just getting it back. 

This is at the time that Simpson had been found liable in the civil court case in the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. He couldn't just go around selling his memorabilia - legally. Because people were looking for any kind of profit Simpson was making in order to legally extract it from him as part of the liability.

He had these friends, some of whom were maybe more 'seedy' than others, who were willing to associate with him and who were willing to sell off his memorabilia and cut him in on it. With that understood, you fast forward to this night at the Palace Station, in a hotel room where Simpson and his crew they come into this room and the essential threaten the person Bruce Fromong. They basically take back the material. It's not only reported to police but it's recorded.

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Did Simpson say anything on those tapes that incriminated him?

According to the tapes, which were questioned in court just the level of veracity of them... but the bottom line was Simpson did menace people and said "nobody leaves the f**king room.' 

The thing that is so interesting with O.J. Simpson you have this big picture of the American athletes - one of the most likable American athletes, one of the most likable African-American athletes - who managed to become an actor and a pitchman for the rental car company really successful in that regard. He goes through this entire upheaval of his image and his life and he winds up in this hotel room in Vegas, talking like a thug and surrounded by guys who were willing to do whatever they needed to do to hang out with him.

Simpson got sentenced to nine to 30 years in prison. Is that a fair sentence for this crime or was a sentence that made up for the not guilty verdict in the murder trial?

I think, obviously, a lot of the American public looks at it that way. When you look at the evidence that was presented that was accepted at trial that could have influenced jurors. There were recordings with Simpson's voice on it. So it wasn't a tough call. Did he get the book thrown at him? Yeah. Let's take the celebrity out of it and have a robbery that is an armed robbery with two weapons involved and I think someone is going to prison for that.

We seem to be obsessed to O.J. Simpson. Why?

I think it goes back to his rise in the American consciousness. He was a star on the athletic field in college at USC. He was a star with the Buffalo Bills. He wasn't just a fine running back. He was a superstar. He's a good looking man. When he took up acting, he found roles in comedies... and he comported himself really well there. He was better liked. 

 A lot of folks focus on an O.J. who was born in Oakland and wasn't from a middle-class family. O.J. was the African-American who really made the grade and crossed over into the white public. I think there was a lot of that going on. America is clearly a place where racial overtones are present and Simpson seemed to pierce that. 

You're going to be Carson City for the hearing, why?

I'm really interested in studying the big tent of it. To see how it's covered. I don't expect anything new to come out of it. I think Simpson is getting pretty close to the end of the minimum of his sentence the commissioners are going to look at that... but it is interesting that there is such a crush of media interest. It is almost as if the dog days of summer here you've got people refocused on the Simpson issue.

Guests

John L. Smith, contributor

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