Why Is OJ Simpson In Prison?


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Disgraced American sports celebrity OJ Simpson is as much known for his career as a football player and actor, as he is for having been at the centre of the most controversial and explosive court case in modern US history. Simpson, who in 1995 was acquitted of murdering his wife and her close friend Ron Goldman, was later found liable for these deaths in a civil lawsuit. Even though the majority of the American public believed all along that Simpson was guilty of murder, he avoided serving time in prison, enraging much of the United States. Yet the millions of Americans that wished to see Simpson behind bars, have now gotten their wish, even if belatedly and due to a completely unrelated criminal offense. In 2007, Simpson became embroiled a bizarre criminal case involving kidnapping, assault and robbery. He was found guilty by a Nevada court and was sentenced in December 2008.

[Source: Sport Gallery]

The American justice system allows for particularly long prison sentences and as such, the 61 year old Simpson received a devastating 33 years behind bars, which means that he may spend the rest of his life in jail. It is difficult to tell whether Simpson will ever taste freedom again, but he may become eligible for parole in nine years, provided that he stays out of trouble in prison.

Yet even if Simpson is eligible for parole in 2017, this is far from guaranteed, as a parole board may rule that Simpson poses a risk to society and should remain imprisoned, even if his behaviour at the Lovelock Correctional Centre in Nevada is exemplary. Although US courts are not permitted to allow Simpson's murder case from the 1990s influence their treatment of his current robbery trial, many Americans clearly saw Simpson's current sentencing as long-delayed justice, and trust that he remains in prison for the rest of his life.

America's most explosive courtroom drama

[Source: Los Angeles Police Mug-shots]

When OJ Simpson was arrested in 2007 for having robbed sports memorabilia from a Las Vegas hotel room and reportedly detained the individuals who were present in the suite, the celebrity who had long ago fallen from grace once again found himself in trouble with authorities. Simpson's most recent criminal case, however, brought back memories of the mid-1990s, when newspapers a television stations were galvanized by his highly divisive murder trial.

Simpson's infamy began on June 12, 1994, when his ex-wife, Nicole Brown and her friend—and possibly boyfriend—Ron Goldman were both found dead after having been stabbed numerous times. The crime scene was macabre by all accounts; Brown had reportedly been stabbed so many times to her neck that the killer had almost beheaded her. Goldman had also been cut numerous times with a knife, possibly because the killer wished to prolong his agony.

Los Angeles police were ultimately suspicious that Simpson was involved in the murder and the celebrity's lawyers told authorities that the suspect would turn himself in on June 17, 1994. Instead, Simpson never appeared at the police station and he tried to flee in a white Ford Bronco. Television stations across the US filmed the car chase and helicopters flew over the highways, bringing viewers at home a scene that they would normally only see in Hollywood action movies. Simpson tried to elude police officers for over 50 miles, after which point the disgraced sports celebrity finally gave himself up to police.

When Simpson's murder trial went ahead and the defendant relied on the help of some of the most prominent lawyers in America, including Robert Shapiro and Allan Dershowitz, spending up to $6 million on his defence. While signs such as the car chase and circumstantial evidence suggested that Simpson was probably guilty or murder, his defence played up the fact that the prosecution was unable to find the actual murder weapon and could not rely on any first-hand witnesses. The defence team also argued that Simpson—who was 46 years old at the time—suffered from arthritis and was simply no match for the much younger Ron Goldman. DNA evidence did, however, raise very serious questions of Simpson's guilt, as blood samples suggested that the celebrity had visited Nicole Brown's house at
the time of the murders.

Source: People Magazine]

After the veracity of DNA findings had been successfully called into question by the defense and due to the fact that a murder weapon was never recovered, the grand jury shocked and angered the majority of the American population by acquitting Simpson of the murder charges. The courtroom drama's significance in American history is that it exposed very deep racial divisions in the US, as polls indicated that most Caucasians believed that Simpson was guilty, while many African Americans felt that the sports celebrity was probably innocent and may have been the latest victim of police discrimination.

Even if Simpson was acquitted of murder in his criminal trial, clouds of suspicion continued to follow him. In 1997, a civil court determined that Simpson handed down a wrongful death verdict in the case of both Brown and Goldman, and fined the disgraced sports star nearly $34 million. Those who believed all along in Simpson's guilt felt at least partially justified after the 1997 civil trial, but even more so when the defendant wrote a book entitled If I Did It, which he claimed was simply a fictional account of how he might have murdered Goldman and Brown, had he been compelled to do so.

The Las Vegas incident

[Source: UPI Photos]

Despite the fact that Simpson was widely believed to have gotten away with murder, he continued to live a comfortable life until September 2007, when he—accompanied by several other men—broke into a room at the Palace Station hotel in Las Vegas and stole valuable sports-related collectors items. Simpson had always claimed that he did nothing wrong, as the sports goods had belonged to him, so the fact that he decided to collect them did not contravene any laws. Yet Simpson should have asked police to obtain these items, if he was, indeed, the rightful owner.

Simpson's entry into a hotel room with several other men in order to recover his sports equipment led to his arrest and a lengthy series of charges, including kidnapping and robbery. According to eyewitness testimony, Simpson and the other men in his entourage robbed heirloom dealer Bruce Fromong at gunpoint. Simpson may not have been the one to hold the weapon, but it is was argued that he served as the group's ringleader. After having been found guilty, Simpson now faces a bare minimum of 9 years in prison, but due to concurrent sentencing regulations, the disgraced sports celebrity may be locked up for as many as 33 years. If Simpson's maximum sentence stands, he will be 94 years old. As such,
there is a distinct possibility that Simpson will remain in prison for the rest of his life.

Simpson's last hope

Simpson's last remaining hope is that the appeal prepared by his defense will succeed in overturning the verdict that landed him in prison. Simpson's lawyers submitted their appeal on October 10, 2008 and have argued that the original trial was characterized by judicial error, including the selection and then dismissal of two jurors, on what the defence claims happened to be on racial grounds. The majority of jurors (10 in total) were white, while there was only one Hispanic, one Asian and two African Americans, who were only prospective jurors, but were ultimately dismissed.

Simpson has already spent eight months in a Nevada prison, but every indication is that he should get ready for many more months behind bars, regardless of the outcome of his appeal. Simpson's appeal is unlikely to be reviewed before the end of the year, and the chance that an appeals court will overturn the initial verdict is small. Only a fraction of all verdicts are overturned and there would have to be very compelling evidence of judicial error or misconduct for this to occur. One of the arguments in Simpson's appeal is that the judge overtly and publicly admonished the defence. While this may be true, the judge
admonished the prosecution in equally vociferous terms.

The most likely scenario for OJ Simpson is that he will be released from prison in 2017, after 9 years behind bars. But if the disgraced sports icon ever gets into trouble in prison, or if he shows an aggressive streak, he may find himself locked up for his maximum 33 year sentence.

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