O.J. Simpson prepares for prison

Sat Dec 6, 2008 3:01am EST
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By Steve Gorman

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - More than a decade after O.J. Simpson stunned much of America by walking away from a murder trial a free man, the onetime football great known for unbridled speed was preparing to spend in prison what should have been the prime years of a superstar's retirement.

The 61-year-old former athlete, Hollywood actor and pioneering symbol of African-American celebrity success was sentenced on Friday to as much as 33 years behind bars, with eligibility for parole after nine, for a robbery caper in Las Vegas last year.

As the retired football hero once known as "The Juice" was led away in shackles, many who have followed his downward spiral over the years still wondered how a figure who inspired a generation could have fallen so far from grace.

Even Simpson's former sister-in-law, Denise Brown, who believes he was guilty of murdering her sister, lamented his fate.

"It is very sad to think that an individual who had it all, an amazing career, beautiful wife and two precious children has ended up like this," Denise Brown said in a statement following the sentencing.

The case stemmed from a bid by Simpson to reclaim what he insisted were personal possessions that had been stolen from him. With five other men in tow, he stormed into a small room at the Palace Station hotel and casino in September 2007 and made off with thousands of dollars in collectibles they seized at gunpoint from a pair of memorabilia dealers there.

In the words of Simpson himself, pleading for leniency in a hoarse, trembling voice as he stood before the judge in blue jail garb: "In no way did I mean to hurt anybody, to steal anything."

But Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass rejected defense arguments that Simpson acted without criminal intent and she suggested that he was his own worst enemy.   Continued...

<p>O.J. Simpson appears in court as his sentence is read at the Clark County Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, December 5, 2008. REUTERS/Ethan Miller/POOL</p>