The Juice and justice

Lawyers and pundits have ample room to debate whether the sentence handed down to O.J. Simpson on Friday was what the former football star deserved, or payback for an earlier crime for which he was never convicted. The punishment strikes us as both legally and cosmically just.

Simpson was sentenced to a maximum of 33 years in prison on 12 counts, including kidnapping and armed robbery, after he and an oddball posse -- four members of which testified against him in plea deals -- burst into a Las Vegas hotel room and stole up to $100,000 worth of sports memorabilia from a pair of dealers at gunpoint. In Simpson's inevitable appeal, his lawyers can be expected to argue that 33 years is too long for a man with no prior record who was retrieving property he believed to have been stolen from him, and that their client was treated unfairly because of public perceptions that he got away with murder 13 years ago.

Simpson's conviction and sentencing is one of those unusual circumstances in which human law and karmic justice converge. A jury decided in 1995 that Simpson was not guilty of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, in a case deeply tainted by police and prosecutorial incompetence, and despite substantial evidence to the contrary. Simpson's conduct in the ensuing years has only enhanced the impression that his acquittal was a miscarriage of justice. His efforts to dodge the civil judgment against him in 1997 by protecting his assets from the families of the victims, his bizarre pseudo-confessional book and his failure to pursue the "real killer," as he once promised to do, have reduced the ranks of those who once insisted on his innocence.

Without any doubt, Simpson belongs behind bars. He combines the enormous self-regard that comes with celebrity and the arrogant belief that he can get away with anything. That he is a remorseless liar was clearly demonstrated by secretly recorded conversations played during the latest trial, which proved the falsity of his claims of being unaware that his associates were armed. And whether Judge Jackie Glass was subconsciously influenced by Simpson's notoriety or not, 33 years (perhaps as few as nine with parole) isn't an unreasonable term for crimes as serious as those Simpson committed. If it also means that a bad guy gets what's coming to him -- that's OK too.

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