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OJ Simpson parole hearing will bring media circus to Nevada

Updated July 17, 2017 - 5:56 pm

The low-speed white Ford Bronco chase. The glove that didn’t fit. The 150 million viewers who tuned in to watch O.J. Simpson be acquitted of murder. The Las Vegas robbery conviction more than a decade later.

And the media frenzy that has followed at every turn.

It’s all a part of the folklore of O.J. Simpson.

“The fascination has not decreased,” said Loyola Law School professor and longtime Simpson case analyst Laurie Levenson. “We still don’t know the end of the O.J. story.”

Another chapter in Simpson’s story will be told this week when he goes before a parole board. And the media circus will be there once again to document every moment.

Some 30 outlets in state

CNN, NBC News, Fox News and ESPN are among some 30 news outlets expected to be in Nevada for Simpson’s parole hearing on Thursday. Several television networks, including ESPN, plan to air the hearing live.

“The appetite for O.J. has never gone away,” said David Sarosi, coordinating producer for ESPN show “Outside the Lines,” which will cover the hearing for ESPN.

Simpson, 70, is serving a nine- to 33-year sentence for the 2007 robbery inside a Palace Station hotel room, in which he said he was trying to recover memorabilia stolen from him.

Four state commissioners in Carson City will question Simpson — who will appear via videoconference from Lovelock Correctional Center — starting at 10 a.m. The board is expected to announce later Thursday whether to grant him parole beginning as early as Oct. 1.

Dozens of media members are expected at both locations, according to the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners. Simpson will likely dominate the news cycle that day.

“People just can’t get enough,” Levenson said.

Coverage of parole hearings are rare in the media, Levenson said, and most go fairly unnoticed by the public.

“But there’s nothing about O.J. that goes unnoticed,” she said.

Nicknamed “The Juice,” the former Heisman Trophy winner, NFL All-Pro running back and actor was once one of the most popular celebrities in America.

Then came infamy. And the cameras.

‘Fixated on O.J.’

He was arrested and eventually acquitted for the 1994 murders of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The police pursuit of Simpson in his white Ford Bronco became an iconic image of the time, and even interrupted broadcasts of the 1994 NBA Finals.

Observers say that low-speed chase on a Southern California freeway kicked off the frenzy that follows Simpson.

“It’s the O.J. phenomenon,” Levenson said. “From the very first moment his murder case broke, people have been fixated on O.J. and his criminal cases.”

The media coverage of the murder trial was the first time major news outlets carried wall-to-wall coverage of a court case — with daily coverage of the proceedings, recaps and of course, talking heads.

More than 150 million viewers tuned in to watch the announcement of the verdict in 1995, and Levenson said that trial may have changed the way news gets covered.

“Before there was the Kardashians, there was O.J.,” she said.

‘Ready for anything’

More than a decade after the mammoth murder trial, media from across the country descended upon Las Vegas to again chronicle Simpson’s legal fight.

“It was like something that I’d never seen before. And I’m pretty sure it was something Las Vegas had never seen before,” said Brian Haynes, a former Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter who covered Simpson’s robbery arrest and trial.

“We knew this was going to be big. I think we were ready for anything,” Haynes said. “And anything came.”

The day Simpson was arrested in 2007, media trucks from every major news station flooded the Metropolitan Police Department’s parking lot to get footage of Simpson, Haynes said.

The media frenzy persisted through the trial in 2008 with news outlets from across the country providing minute-by-minute updates.

Haynes, who now works as a program manager for the Las Vegas-based research firm Applied Analysis, said he’s not surprised the frenzy will continue with Thursday’s parole hearing.

“O.J. is just O.J. Even now, he’s been behind bars for close to 10 years. He still holds this sort of charm that people just want to know what’s going on with him,” Haynes said. “Good or bad, everyone knows who he is.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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