LAS VEGAS — Former football legend O.J. Simpson became a free man Sunday after serving nine years for a botched hotel room heist that brought prison time he avoided after his 1995 acquittal in the killings of his ex-wife and her friend.
Simpson was released at 12:08 a.m. PDT from Lovelock Correctional Center in northern Nevada, state prisons spokeswoman Brooke Keast told The Associated Press. She said she didn’t know immediately where Simpson was headed, adding that an unidentified driver met him and took him to an undisclosed location.
“I don’t have any information on where he’s going,” said Keast, who watched Simpson in blue jeans, denim jacket and ball cap signing documents before his release.
Her department released a brief video on social media of Simpson being told to “come on out” by a prison staffer. He responded “OK,” walked through an open door and into the pre-dawn darkness just minutes into the first day a parole board set for his possible release.
Tom Scotto, a Simpson friend who lives in Naples, Florida, said by text message an hour later that he was with Simpson, but did not answer texts asking where they were going or whether members of Simpson’s family were with them.
Along with Simpson’s sister and daughter, Scotto had attended the July parole hearing at the same prison where Simpson served his time.
Simpson has said he wanted to move back to Florida, where he lived before his armed robbery conviction in Las Vegas in a September 2007 confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers. But Florida prison officials indicated Sunday morning his return did not appear imminent.
Florida’s Corrections Department “has not received any transfer paperwork from Nevada” about Simpson, spokeswoman Ashley Cook said.
Though Florida’s attorney general has urged the department to object to Simpson’s return, the department previously has said it would be required to accept a transfer if the request met certain criteria.
Simpson’s attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, and state Parole and Probation Capt. Shawn Arruti, who has been handling Simpson’s case, did not respond to messages Sunday seeking comment.
LaVergne said recently that Simpson was looking forward to reuniting with his family, eating a steak and some seafood and moving back to Florida. Simpson also plans to get an iPhone and get reacquainted with technology that was in its infancy when he was sent to prison in 2008, his attorney said.
Keast said the overnight release from the prison about 90 miles (145 kilometres) east of Reno, Nevada, was conducted to avoid media attention.
“We needed to do this to ensure public safety and to avoid any possible incident,” Keast added.
The 70-year-old Simpson gains his freedom after being granted parole in July. He faces restrictions during up to five years of parole supervision and is unlikely to escape public scrutiny as the man who morphed from charismatic football hero, movie star and TV personality into suspected killer and convicted armed robber.
Nevada authorities said Simpson cannot use illegal drugs and can drink alcohol only if the amount he drinks is below Nevada’s blood-alcohol limit for driving.
He also is prohibited from associating with felons or anyone who Nevada officials prohibit him contacting. He must tell the state where he’ll be living and when he changes his residence. The conditions apply if Simpson ends up out of state.
Simpson lost his home near Miami to foreclosure in 2012. But two of his children, Justin and Sydney, also live in Florida.
He could live at least temporarily in Las Vegas, where a friend let Simpson use his home for five weeks during his robbery trial.
His five years of parole supervision could be reduced with credits for good behaviour.
It’s a new chapter for the one-time pop culture phenomenon whose fame was once again on display when the major TV networks carried his parole hearing live.
He told officials that leading a group of men into a 2007 armed confrontation was an error in judgment he would not repeat.
He told the parole board that he led a “conflict-free life,” an assertion that angered many who believe he got away with killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles in 1994. He was acquitted the following year in Los Angeles in what was dubbed the “trial of the century.”
In a statement released through a family spokesman, Goldman’s parents said they respected the Nevada Parole Board’s decision to release Simpson, but that it was “still difficult for us knowing he will be a free man again.”
Fred and Kim Goldman said they will continue to pursue payment of a $33.5 million judgment awarded in 1997 after Simpson was found civilly liable for the death and will keep advocating for domestic violence awareness, victim advocacy and judicial reform. Simpson is still legally obligated to pay the judgment, which now amounts to about $65 million, according to David Cook, a Goldman family lawyer.
Simpson was once an electrifying running back dubbed “Juice” who won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best college football player for USC in 1968 and became one of the NFL’s all-time greats with the Buffalo Bills.
Handsome and charming, he also provided commentary on “Monday Night Football,” became the face of Hertz rental-car commercials and built a movie career with roles in the “Naked Gun” comedies and other films.
Simpson fell from grace when he was arrested in the slayings, after a famous “slow-speed” Ford Bronco chase on California freeways. His subsequent trial became a live-TV sensation that fascinated viewers with its testimony about a bloody glove that didn’t fit and unleashed furious debate over race, police and celebrity justice.
A jury swiftly acquitted him, but two years later, Simpson was found liable in civil court for the killings.
On Sept. 16, 2007, he led five men he barely knew to the Palace Station casino in Las Vegas in an effort to retrieve items that Simpson insisted were stolen after his acquittal in the 1994 slayings. Two of the men with Simpson in Las Vegas carried handguns, although Simpson still insists he never knew anyone was armed. He says he only wanted to retrieve personal items, mementoes and family photos.
He went to prison in 2008, receiving a stiff sentence that his lawyers said was unfair.
If the nation’s Simpson obsession waned for a while, it resurged last year with the Emmy-winning FX miniseries, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” and the Oscar-winning documentary “O.J.: Made in America.”