December 22, 2008 12:00 PM

From the beginning, nearly everyone connected to O.J. Simpson’s robbery case in Las Vegas—the prosecution, the defense, even ardent Simpson haters—insisted that it should have nothing to do with his acquittal in the 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in Los Angeles. But when the football Hall of Famer drew a sentence on Dec. 5 that will keep him in prison at least nine years, the overriding sense was that some larger justice had been done. “We’re thrilled,” said Fred Goldman, Ron’s father, who attended the sentencing with his daughter Kim. “It’s a kind of bittersweet moment knowing that that SOB is going to be in jail for a long time.”

Even Simpson himself seemed to be glancing backward into history. In a whiney, rambling speech at his sentencing he took a page from the script of the earlier case, once again portraying himself as a flawed but decent man unfairly caught up in circumstances. “I stand here today sorry, somewhat confused,” he told the court before his sentencing on charges stemming from a bizarre confrontation last year at the Palace Station Hotel in Las Vegas, where Simpson and five other men showed up with guns trying to retrieve sports memorabilia that Simpson claimed had been stolen from him. “I never meant to hurt anybody.” But presiding Judge Jackie Glass was not moved. “Earlier in this case,” she said, “I said to Mr. Simpson I didn’t know if he was arrogant or ignorant or both … I got this answer, and it was both.”

In her remarks Judge Glass also underscored an interesting fact: Simpson’s infamous murder case had provided an indirect motive for the Las Vegas robbery. The Goldman and Brown families won a wrongful death suit against Simpson in 1997 that awarded them $33.5 million in damages. Shielded by technicalities, Simpson has barely paid a nickel of that judgment and may have disbursed some of his personal memorabilia with friends and associates to protect it from seizure by the Goldmans. “You didn’t want all those items to fall into the hands of the Goldmans,” Judge Glass said of the robbery. “You referred to them as ‘the Golddiggers.'” Afterwards Fred Goldman voiced satisfaction over the poetic justice. “If our efforts through all these years drove him to commit … armed robbery in Vegas,” Goldman said, “if that pushed him over the edge, well, great.”

Of course Simpson was not without supporters. His sisters Shirley and Carmelita, along with his daughter Arnelle, by first wife Marguerite, attended the sentencing. Conspicuously absent were his two kids by Nicole, Sydney, 23, and Justin, 20. (Sydney, who attends college in Massachusetts, and Justin, who’s in college in Florida, have always steered clear of the limelight.)

Simpson’s lead lawyer, Yale Galanter, vowed to file an appeal. But few legal experts gave that much chance of success. Even Galanter acknowledged that the defense team, perhaps because of their client’s notoriety, was braced for Judge Glass to throw the book at Simpson—who could have faced life in prison. “We are pleased,” says Galanter of the sentence. “It was incredibly fair.” Though Galanter was quick to add that Simpson, who has been held in jail for the past two months since his conviction, was “melancholy” and already feeling the effects of his incarceration. Says Galanter: “Being locked in a cage does things to you.”

So how long will Simpson actually have to serve? Perhaps far more than the nine-year minimum. As Clark County District Attorney David Roger points out, “Typically in crimes of violence people don’t get paroled their first time” in Nevada. A presentencing report recommended that Simpson, 61, serve 18 years. Said Fred Goldman: “What we have is satisfaction that this monster is where he belongs, behind bars”—in a place, it might be added, where even he cannot escape the ghosts of his past.

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