By Paul Vercammen
PHILADELPHIA (CNN)–O.J. Simpson could get out of prison later this year, if a pivotal parole hearing goes his way.
The hearing will likely take place in July, according to David Smith, spokesman for the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners. Depending on the outcome, the “Juice” could be loose as soon as October 1. Previous ratings of Simpson have scored him in the low-risk category for release.
Simpson — who was famously acquitted in 1995 in the slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman — has been serving out a nine-to-33-year sentence for his role in a 2007 incident that unfolded in a Las Vegas hotel room.
He and armed associates allegedly confronted memorabilia dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley and took pieces of Simpson’s memorabilia from them. Simpson was convicted on charges including kidnapping, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.
The former college and pro football star said at his sentencing that he was trying to reclaim family heirlooms and other personal items that had been stolen from him, and claimed that he was unaware his associates were carrying guns.
Simpson’s lawyers in the Nevada case argued that the crime did not justify the time. They said that Simpson, 69, was getting a dose of payback from the Nevada justice system after his acquittal in the Brown and Goldman murders.
Simpson has always denied that he was their killer, though the Brown and Goldman families won a wrongful death civil judgment against him in 1997.
Since 2008, Simpson has been at Lovelock Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in a remote desert town of the same name. This summer, Nevada prison inmate #1027820 will have his first chance at freedom. It comes at a time when Simpson has vaulted back into the limelight with the documentary “O.J.: Made in America,” which captured the Academy Award for best documentary.
Ron Goldman’s father, Fred, told CNN he is not surprised Simpson may be released from prison in October.
“Simpson has proven over and over again, throughout his life, he has absolutely no concern for the law or authority,” Goldman said.
Simpson’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.
At least four of seven commissioners will have to vote in Simpson’s favor in order for him to be released. Here’s how they will make their decision.
How Simpson could get parole
With a minimum sentence of nine years, this is the first year Simpson could be released. But he was granted parole on some of the counts against him at a 2013 hearing. This summer, he will only have to make parole on seven of the original 12 counts. Prosecutors declined to comment on the likelihood of Simpson being paroled.
Simpson’s prosecution in the deaths and civil suit loss will have no impact on his bid for parole, said Smith, the parole board spokesman.
The parole board scores an inmate on several factors — the higher the total score, the greater the risk involved in releasing them. A person with a score of zero to five points is deemed low risk; six to 11 points, medium risk; and 12 or more, high risk.
In 2013, Simpson scored three points overall. Little has changed for him since then, and he is likely to score similarly when he goes before the board again this summer.
In his favor: He will turn 70 years old in July, and people above the age of 41 are considered less likely to commit a crime (-1 point). Simpson was above the age of 24 at the time of his first arrest; he has never had parole or probation revoked; he is retired and is believed to have no gang ties; he is a medium custody inmate (all 0 points).
In 2013, he had no record of disciplinary action over the year before the hearing, earning him -1 point. Simpson has maintained a pattern of good behavior and is likely to have the same score again this summer.
Completing an educational, vocational or treatment program would also help him. Simpson scored zero in this category in 2013, but testified then that he was on the waiting list to get into a “commitment to change” program. If he got in, he will likely score -1 point this year.
Another factor in Simpson’s favor — one that no doubt enrages the Brown and Goldman families — is the fact that his risk assessment states “no prior conviction history.”
Working against him: He has a property crime conviction in the 2007 incident (2 points). In the “drug/alcohol use/abuse” category, Simpson’s 2013 parole documents cite a history of “frequent abuse, serious disruption of functioning.” (2 points) As men are statistically more likely than women to commit crimes, he also scores one point for his gender.
The severity of the crime is another factor for the commissioners to consider, outside of the risk assessment score sheet. Simpson received the highest level of offense severity for his kidnapping conviction in the hotel raid, during which the memorabilia dealers said they feared leaving the hotel room under threat from Simpson’s gun-wielding associates.
The “substantial financial loss” one of the memorabilia dealers incurred was also cited in 2013 as a factor that made Simpson’s crime more serious.
‘A model prisoner’
If Simpson does score as low risk in 2017, the board still has the latitude to deny him parole. Should that happen, Simpson would go before the parole board again before 2020, Smith said.
But Simpson fits the profile of a state prison inmate who receives parole at the first opportunity, Nevada defense attorney Dan Hill said.
“Simpson’s age, the fact that he was given parole on the first sentencing batch, weigh in his favor,” Hill said. “So does the fact that he was by all accounts a model prisoner, as does any acceptance of responsibility for his actions.”
In a video of the 2013 hearing, Simpson pleads with the parole commissioners. “My crime was trying to retrieve for my family my own property that was stolen from me,” Simpson tells the panel. “I just wish I had never gone to that room. I wish I had just said keep it and not worry about it.”
Simpson tells the board that he helps supervise in the prison gym, disinfects equipment, mops floors, coaches and umpires games.
“Because of I guess my age, guys come to me,” Simpson says. “I’m sure the powers here know that I advise a lot of guys. I’d like to feel I kept a lot of trouble from happening. Since I’ve been here by getting involved in some of the conflicts that some of the individuals here have had.”
The old-fashioned principle of remorse
Members of the parole board “work with the old-fashioned principal of wanting to hear the inmate is remorseful for their crime,” said Gabe Grasso, a veteran Nevada defense attorney who was part of the team representing Simpson in the Las Vegas kidnapping case.
Grasso, who stopped representing the former star running back eight years ago, has seen dozens of former clients go before the parole board.
“What O.J. has going for him is I don’t think Fromong will want to show up screaming and testifying against him,” the lawyer added. “He was upset, insulted, but I don’t think that he thought the price should be what it was.”
Fromong told CNN that he would testify in favor of Simpson’s release. “I told the district attorney at the time (of his conviction) that I only thought that O.J. Simpson deserved one to three years in state prison,” Fromong said.
“O.J.’s done his time, he’s been a model inmate,” he said.
The other victim, Alfred Beardsley, died in 2015.
“Something else that could help O.J., he did not set up the meeting in the hotel room,” Grasso added.
Tom Riccio, a Los Angeles man who had been convicted on stolen property charges before the 2007 incident, arranged the meeting between Simpson and the memorabilia dealers.
“I hope he does get his life together,” Riccio told CNN. “I hope he doesn’t take matters into his own hands anymore. I hope he has learned his lesson.”
“He was just trying to get his stuff back,” Riccio said. “A lot of memorabilia but also a lot of personal items, mementos. I don’t think a regular person would get nine to 33 years for these crimes. They were getting him for other things.”
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