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O.J. Simpson, former American football star, leaves prison after serving 9 years

The once iconic football superstar has spent the last nine years in prison after an armed robbery conviction. He was once the target of criminal charges in the brutal slayings of his wife and her friend.

O.J. Simpson, the former football super-star turned suspected murderer and finally convicted burglar, was paroled from prison after serving nine years of a 33-year sentence.

He was released from the Lovelock Correctional Center in northern Nevada at 12:08 a.m. (0708 UTC) local time on Sunday, according to the prisons spokeswoman Brooke Keast.

It was not known who picked him up or where he was going to spend his first hours of freedom.

OJ Simpson grimaces as he's taken into custody after being convicted of armed robbery in 2008.

Simpson after being convicted of armed robbery in 2008

"I don't have any information on where he's going," Keast said.

She defended the middle of the night release to sidestep media attention.

"We needed to do this to ensure public safety and to avoid any possible incident," she added.

Simpson, 70, was granted parole in July, but he still faces restrictions, including as much as five years of parole supervision.

Simpson, popularly known as OJ or "The Juice," shot to fame in the 1970s as an electrifying running back primarily for the Buffalo Bills. The handsome and charismatic athlete also carved out an acting niche for himself, getting bit parts in various movies, and becoming a pitchman for a nationally known car rental company.

But it all came crashing down in June 1994 after the brutal murder of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Almost immediately Simpson became the prime suspect. When he failed to turn himself in he was pursued by police in a now infamous chase on a California highway that was broadcast live on television.

The trial of the century

His so-called "trial of the century" riveted Americans and garnered worldwide coverage as it dragged out for nearly a year. A jury swiftly acquitted the sports legend over the murder of his wife and her friend, both of whom were white. The case sparked widespread outrage and renewed racial tensions across the country.

John Travolta and Sterling K. Brown display their Emmy awards after winnng Best Mini-Series or Movie for: The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story won an Emmy award in 2016 for Best Mini-Series

It also raised, anew, questions about the justice system. Critics said powerful people who could spend lots of money on expensive lawyers could avoid justice in America while poor, and disproportionately black, suspects were more likely to be convicted by virtue of their economic status.

Blacks largely came to Simpson's defense while whites overwhelmingly thought he was guilty. Police essentially closed the case after Simpson's acquittal, saying they had no other suspects.

But two years later Simpson was found guilty of his wife's murder and that of her friend in civil court, and was ordered to pay $33.5 million to survivors, including his children and Goldman's family.

That debt has now grown to about $65 million, according to a lawyer for the Goldman family.

In 2007, Simpson and several armed men burst into a room in the Palace Station casino in Las Vegas in an ill-conceived attempt to retrieve items that Simpson claimed were stolen after his 1994 acquittal.

He was found guilty of armed robbery and sent to prison.

bik/sms (AP, dpa, AFP)

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