Newsflash: O.J. Simpson was granted parole Thursday and could be released from the Lovelock (Nev.) Correctional Center as early as Oct. 1.

Yes, the Juice is loose – or at least he will be in about 72 days.

With Simpson back in the news, I couldn’t help but recall my one-on-one encounter with the former Heisman Trophy winner/actor when I was still the executive sports editor of the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat 13 years ago.

It was December 2004 when I was offered the opportunity to interview Simpson after midnight on a Friday night at a remote social club in nearby Quincy, Florida.

This was 10 years after the murders of his estranged wife, Nicole, and her friend Ron Goldman. And while Simpson had been found guilty in the court of public opinion, he was acquitted during a 1995 trial.

To quote defense attorney Johnny Cochran, “If (the glove)  doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Trust me, that piece of evidential logic didn’t make me any less nervous when I sat down with Simpson, who was flanked by two huge body guards who could have snapped me in half if so ordered.

But more on that later after we delve into this latest news.

On Thursday, Simpson was up for parole for a 2007 armed robbery in a Las Vegas hotel room in which memorabilia dealer Bruce Fromong was threatened at gunpoint and roughed up by two of the four men who accompanied Simpson to the meeting.

For those robbery/kidnapping charges, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years but had his time commuted to nine years because of a “positive institutional record,” including working to acquire educational materials for the prison, counseling inmates and serving as commissioner of a prison softball league.

Because of the concept of being granted time off for good behavior, the 70-year-old Simpson  would have been eligible for parole no later than Sept. 2022. His age and the fact he had no previous convictions were factors in granting him an even earlier release.

It didn’t hurt that Fromong spoke in Simpson’s behalf at the hearing.

Besides, many of O.J.’s supporters believed his 33-year sentence was a form of delayed justice for the fact that he wasn’t convicted in the Los Angeles murder trial. Indeed, there was no shortage of folks being interviewed on cable television Thursday who would have preferred Simpson had remained incarcerated until his death, which might have been the case if he had been required to stay behind bars until 2040.

With his parole lasting five years, Simpson will not be permitted to drink alcohol during that time and will be subject to random testing to assure compliance. He likely will also face travel restrictions if he’s granted his request to relocate to Florida and any income outside his NFL and Screen Actors Guild pensions would be seized until he has paid off a $33.5 million civil judgment to the Goldman and Brown families.

Now, without further delay, below is the article that was published on Dec. 12, 2004 when I was the executive sports editor of the Tallahassee Democrat. I was at the newspaper for eight years.

***

By Randy Beard

It was half-past midnight at Club V-12 and the joint wasn’t hopping. No one was on the dance floor and only a few regulars lingered at the bar.

But back in a dark corner, slumped on a padded bench, was a man who usually draws a crowd wherever he goes.

Just not Quincy on a Friday night.

When Orenthal James Simpson walked in the door an hour earlier with his entourage of four, the crowd increased by nearly one-third.

“O.J. is here,” one man blurted out. “O.J. Simpson himself.”

“This is the first show I’ve done where we haven’t had a large crowd,”  the former football star said after he had finished signing autographs and posing for pictures with about two dozen fans. “I’m disappointed. I think we would have had a larger crowd in Tallahassee.”

With a bigger crowd might have come some bigger controversy. Promoters initially had approached several sports bars in Tallahassee about scheduling a Simpson appearance but were turned down.

Simpson is resigned to the fact that he’s now as infamous as he was once famous because of his 1995 trial for the murders of his estranged wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

Though he was acquitted of the criminal charges, Simpson later lost a wrongful-death civil suit and was ordered to pay $33.5 million to his victims’ parents. He continues to fight payment because he insists he’s innocent.

“If you had come up to me and said, ‘You’re nothing but a damn murderer,’ I would have told you that I’m sorry you feel that way but that you’re wrong. God bless you,” Simpson said. “But people don’t say that to me. Everywhere I go I’m treated very well.”

He was treated so well in Tallahassee earlier Friday night that he had to leave two restaurants, Outback Steakhouse and Osako Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar. Too many people wanted to meet him.

“I never got to eat,” said Simpson, who eventually grabbed a bite at a Waffle House outside of Quincy.

The manager at Osaka confirmed that Simpson quickly drew a crowd after he was seated at the restaurant.

“Customers recognized him and kept coming over to get his autograph and have their pictures taken with him,” Shu-huei Su said.. “It wasn’t a problem. He was very nice to everyone, but then he got a phone call and they left. He was only here about 15 minutes.”

Simpson wasn’t given a chance to be well-received anywhere else in Tallahassee, said Gerard Colter, president of operations for TUK Entertainment.

He tried to schedule an autograph session at A.J. Sports, BW-3 Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar and other sports bars with the idea of just having an after-party at Club V-12. But Colter said that whenever he mentioned Simpson’s name, the reception turned chilly.

“I thought places like A.J.’s or BW-3 would be excited to have O.J. Simpson come there,” he said. “But all I heard was that it would be bad for business.”

BW-3 confirmed that it passed on an appearance by Simpson.

“Some people would have been offended,” said general manager Vicki Mola. “We decided we wouldn’t be interested.”

A manager at A.J.’s declined comment.

“The hard-core sports fans were denied a chance to have a memorable experience,” said Colter. “It shows you how small-minded people can be. Tallahassee will never see anything like this again.”\

Colter said the situation was made worse when the Cumulous radio stations in town pulled commercials advertising Simpson’s appearance off every station but 96.1 FM by midweek. Station officials couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday. But Colter said he was told the stations had gotten complaints from listeners.

With limited promotion, Colter said he knew the event at Club V-12 wasn’t going to attract the crowd of 300 or more that he had hoped Simpson’s appearance would draw — or even the 100 he and his partners would have needed to break even.

Trisha Bradley was one of the people who shelled out $20 at the door for the opportunity to meet the former Buffalo Bills player.  Dressed in jeans and an open denim shirt over a white T-shirt , and wearing a large silver cross, Simpson mingled easily at the bar.

“I love O.J.” said Bradley. “He’s such a nice guy.”

Jessica Griner heard about Simpson’s appearance midweek and immediately knew her Friday night plans were set.

“I’m a huge football fan,” Griner said. “He’s one of the greatest running backs of all time, and actually he’s one of the first guys I had a crush on when I was 4. But I didn’t tell him that.”

Asked what she was going to do with the promotional poster Simpson had autographed, Griner said, “I guess I’ll have it framed.”

Carrie — “Just Carrie” of B-103’s “Cash and Carrie” morning show — came toting a shopping bag of four Wilson footballs for Simpson to sign. She also got him to pose for photos, including a couple of him holding up a B-103 T-shirt.

“I’m from Chicago and you’ve got to be a football fan in Chicago,” she said.

Dwight Wilson, who goes by the nickname “Coach,” thought there would be plenty of football fans at the club he co-owns with childhood friend Rudolph Evans.

Club V-12, located off an unpaved road just outside of town, specializes in events like hip-hop concerts and dance reviews. It’s not open every night, or even every weekend, but when it does have an event  Wilson said elbow room can be hard to come by.

“I guess the negativism got to people,” Wilson said.

It didn’t get to Simpson. He was in a good mood and ready to talk football.

He was scheduled for another show Saturday night in Macon, Ga., but said he planned to find a TV so he could watch the  Heisman Trophy presentation. But he was even more excited that his alma mater, the University of Southern Cal, will be playing Oklahoma for the national championship in the Orange Bowl next month.

“I don’t get to too many football games, but I go to a lot of basketball (Miami Heat) and some baseball (Florida Marlins),” Simpson said. “Football crowds are different. They’ll climb over seats to get my autograph.

“Usually when I got to a football game, I’m in a private box.”

Just him and a few friends. Just like Friday night in Quincy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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