Sorry, Trump, this week's media circus belongs to O.J. Simpson

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

All indications are that O.J. Simpson will be granted parole Thursday when the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners hears his latest appeal. What kind of America he walks back into remains to be seen.

While he wouldn’t be eligible to leave the Lovelock Correctional Center until Oct. 1, this should be the day Simpson, 70, has been dreaming of and working toward for nine years. It was then he was sentenced for a cartoonish 2007 Las Vegas hotel room robbery where he was essentially stealing his own pants and other assorted goods from some memorabilia dealers.

Because a gun was involved Nevada was able to throw the book at him. A jury in Vegas found him guilty of 12 counts, including robbery, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced in 2008 to up to 33 years, and since he’d famously beaten the criminal rap on the 1994 California murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, plenty of people were fine with the overcharging and over-sentencing.

Even if the Nevada case didn’t, in a vacuum, feel much like even-handed justice, well, there weren’t going to be a whole lot of tears shed if the key to Simpson’s cell got lost.

The key wasn’t lost, though.

O.J. Simpson could be free from prison as early as Oct. 1. (Getty Images)

Simpson has, by all indications, proven to be a model inmate. There have been no known disciplinary issues and he bided his time doing things like mentoring younger inmates and running the prison softball leagues.

Scoring touchdowns launched him into stardom, but on Thursday Simpson will try to score as few points as possible on the mandatory tally sheet the parole board uses. In 2013, he won parole on the convictions for armed robbery. Thursday he’s up on the remaining convictions. Unless things have changed, you can expect a similar result.

Each item counts for one point, and they are mostly basic and objective – things such as “Disruptive Institutional Behavior” and “infraction free in two years or more [prior] to hearing.”

Score 0-5 points on the parole board worksheet and he’s almost certainly out. If he gets 6-11, he probably walks. Over 12, and he likely stays put. Nevada won’t release his disciplinary record, but Simpson’s former attorney, Yale Galanter, was confident when speaking with USA Today: “He’s going to get parole.”

There are other indications here, too, that his day is coming. Nevada, perhaps seeking full transparency for a decision that will certainly cause a reaction, has taken a few unusual steps.

First, the parole board will release its decision on Thursday, rather than the more common time frame of up to a few weeks after the hearing. Better to wrap this up and get it over with. Second, the hearing will be available for broadcast via pool cameras at the parole board in Carson City and with Simpson in front of a remote camera in Lovelock. They’ve already released all pertinent documents the law allows.

It’s a chance for everyone to see the system in action.

So Thursday at 1 p.m. ET, it will be the 1990s all over again. Hundreds of media members are descending on a parole hearing. Half the networks on television will preempt regular programming to show Simpson argue why he deserves to get out. The country is sure to stop in its tracks, gathering around office break rooms and in bars and to stare up at giant screens in Times Square. Donald Trump could invite every Russian from Vlad Putin to Alex Ovechkin into the Oval Office and CNN wouldn’t cut away.

And therein lies some of the apprehension.

If Simpson is eligible for parole, and has been a model prisoner, then he deserves parole. He served his time (and likely more) for the crime that he committed. Just because there was a measure of justice in O.J. getting so much for this, and so little for a double homicide he was found not guilty of after a chaotic, emotional and mismanaged criminal trial, it doesn’t mean he should stay behind bars. The system is the system. Or it’s supposed to be. No one else is getting 33 years for this event.

And if he walks out of Lovelock on Oct. 1, then he is free to live his life as he sits fit – as long as it conforms to parole conditions.

Score 0-5 points and O.J. Simpson is likely to be paroled.

What life is that going to be, though?

Will there be an O.J. reality television show? Will there be a book deal? Will he be met with roaring crowds, as jacked up at the spectacle as anything else? Will he draw massive lines and big paydays at public appearances and autograph sessions? Sure, the money must go to the Goldman family courtesy of a 1997 civil suit that found Simpson responsible for the murders and to pay back taxes in California, but still.

It’s been 23 years since Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were found slashed to death in Brentwood. Through a callous cocktail of nostalgia and infamy, fueled by recent well-regarded documentaries and television dramas, Simpson is as famous, and perhaps more popular, than ever.

Meanwhile our country is even more celebrity obsessed.

By today’s standards of fame, Simpson’s football and acting career make him a man of great accomplishment. If Simpson was America’s first reality television star, then it probably isn’t a coincidence that its reigning champs are the children of his old friend and attorney, the late Robert Kardashian.

In fairness, this isn’t all a new phenomenon. The celebrating of criminals and famous who-done-its is an old gig. There are Jesse James museums all over the Midwest, an Al Capone “day drinking tour” in Chicago and Lizzie Borden’s home, and crime scene, is now a bed and breakfast in Massachusetts.

Thursday’s hearing is about Simpson and his family. It is also about America, though, the way it somehow always has been when it comes to O.J.

Perhaps he gets out this fall and finds himself quietly living out his days with his children and grandchildren. Maybe he can actually try to somehow impart a positive message, serving as a cautionary tale of a squandered, regretful life.

Or maybe this is just the start of another act in a never-ending circus, the Juice back on the loose, still squeezing out the worst in all of us.

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