If O.J. Simpson’s murder case was the trial of the last century, he just had the parole hearing of this century. Cable channel after cable channel and broadcast network after broadcast network preempted regular programming just to show a man asking to be released from prison.
It was probably the first parole hearing most people had ever seen. But no one cared much about the crime that led to it—a bizarre robbery of some sports memorabilia—they were interested in the "Juice," who’d seemingly gotten away with murder, and was once again involved in a crime.
And just as it didn’t take the O.J. murder trial jury long to deliberate, it didn’t take long for the parole board, either. They came back in under an hour to unanimously agree to release Simpson.
There had been a few bumpy moments at the hearing, where O.J., rather than seeming completely remorseful, seemed to be making excuses for the robbery—he’s already been convicted, that’s not what the procedure was about. In fact, it’s hard to understand why he wasn’t better prepared.
Ultimately, though, Simpson apologized. And testimony from his daughter, Arnelle, and the victim of his crime, Bruce Fromong, helped guarantee his parole was granted.
Overall, it was his parole to lose. All the factors that lead to release—his age, his performance as an inmate, his release plans, his community support and so on—were in his favor.
One big factor was he had no prior convictions. Indeed, one of the parole board members, listing the factors that led to their decision, noted Simpson had no earlier criminal record. And that’s the factor that makes his parole so controversial.
He was acquitted of charges that he murdered his wife Nicole and Ron Goldman. But most of America believes he did it. He was even found responsible for wrongful death in a civil trial. So, many ask, why will a killer soon be allowed to walk the streets?
This is the wrong question to ask. Our criminal court system has to go by its own rulings. If it failed to do this, it would be too easy to replace officially-made decisions with the personal or arbitrary decisions of officials.
Simpson’s original acquittal was a miscarriage of justice. He should have been convicted of two murders and received the maximum punishment available.
But a jury found him not guilty. And even if that’s a mistake, it’s a mistake we have to live with. The alternative—ignoring the system whenever we don’t like the results—would end up with a worse situation, where no one could be sure of the rules, and no one could really count on anything.
This is not to say we’re required to believe Simpson didn’t commit murder. People are free to disagree with the decisions of a judge or jury.
But the rule of law requires us to respect the system enough to understand that court decisions are the final word, formally, on the case.
O.J. Simpson may still be found wanting in the court of public opinion, but if he stays out of trouble, he will soon be a free man who has officially paid his debt to society.