If OJ gets parole, we will all have to deal with it

It’s been a while, but O. J. Simpson will be back in the public eye this Thursday, with a parole hearing to determine if he should be released from prison.

He’s been a controversial figure for so long it’s hard to remember there was a time he seemed to lead a charmed life.

A superstar athlete since his high school days, he was one of the greatest running backs the NFL had ever known.  From there he made a smooth transition into sports broadcasting and film roles.  Simpson, then one of America’s most beloved figures, was also a sought-after commercial spokesman, representing Hertz car rental and numerous other companies.

But that all changed in 1994 when wife Nicole and waiter Ron Goldman were stabbed to death, and Simpson was the suspect. People still remember where they were when TV stations interrupted NBA finals to show a slow-motion chase with O. J. trying to escape in a white Ford Bronco.

It was the trial of the century. The lawyers and the judge became celebrities.  And the story had a surprise twist—while most people thought he did it, he was acquitted. (The case also highlighted a split in the nation, as some African-Americans celebrated the verdict.)

After the trial, O. J. became a shadowy figure. He’d gone from beloved to reviled. When, in 2007, he was involved in a bizarre armed robbery of sports memorabilia in Las Vegas, some even speculated he wanted to get caught so he could pay for his unpunished crime.

In 2008, Simpson was convicted of several charges, including kidnapping, robbery and assault, and given 33 years--with possible parole after nine.

Insiders believe there’s a good chance he’ll get his freedom. Four years ago, the board granted him parole on some of his charges.  And Simpson, who turned 70 on July 9th, has apparently been a model prisoner. Even the victim of the robbery, and his former prosecutor, don’t oppose his release.

But there are still those who want him to remain behind bars.  And one major reason is they believe he literally got away with murder, so why let him out?

But that’s not how the system is supposed to work.

Yes, Simpson’s acquittal for double homicide was a miscarriage of justice. He probably should have been put in prison long ago, and still be there.

But even while you may disagree with that jury’s decision, you have to respect the system. He was found not guilty, and this week’s parole hearing is not about those murder charges.  As far as the parole board is concerned, he has no prior criminal record.

It’s the parole board’s duty to treat him as if he were any other prisoner in a similar situation. Throughout his life he may have gotten special treatment due to his celebrity status, but that doesn’t mean he should now be treated worse just because his name guarantees the whole country will be watching.

He’s no longer running back #32, he’s now just inmate #1027820.

This is not to say people still can’t think of him as a murderer, and treat him accordingly. But if they support the rule of law, they should understand why, if he’s released, it’s an understandable and acceptable decision.

Steve Kurtz is a producer for the Fox News Channel, and author of "Steve’s America (the perfect gift for people named Steve)".