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May 5, 2015

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A sentence ending in a question mark


Ethan Miller / Associated Press

District Court Judge Jackie Glass sentenced O.J. Simpson on Friday to nine to 33 years in prison.

Simpson Sentencing

O.J. Simpson appears during a sentencing hearing at the Clark County Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Dec. 5, 2008. Launch slideshow »

O.J. Simpson was sentenced to a minimum of six years in prison Friday.

Oops, no. Make that a life sentence.

Wait. Actually, it’s nine years.

Scratch that. It’s 33 years.

As District Court Judge Jackie Glass rapidly and confusingly rattled through the minimum and maximum days associated with Simpson and co-defendant C.J. Stewart’s 10 convictions each — some to be served “concurrently” and some “consecutively” — reporters were dumbfounded.

Simpson will spend how many years behind bars? Pick a number.

So they did.

On Fox News, the O.J.-obsessed Greta Van Susteren talked over a news crawl with text that swung suddenly from six years to possible life behind bars. All the while, Van Susteren pontificated as if she fully understood Simpson’s fate. Another Fox News voice authoritatively said, however, the judge “gave him 16.”

The befuddlement spared none as journalists scrambled to produce an instantaneous number. One e-mailed the court’s public information officer, desperately pleading, “You know we’re not good at math.”

He didn’t respond.

The Miami Herald said 18 years.

The Associated Press said 15.

At a news conference, Stewart’s attorney said he would have to consult his notes to figure out the amount of time his client would be put away, according to a person present.

Finally, about 90 minutes after the hearing, the court produced authoritative numbers. Media outlets updated their reports and finally found agreement: Simpson could be released in as little as nine years, and could spend as long as 33 years in prison (until he’s age 94).

It didn’t have to be this difficult. Defense attorney Dayvid Figler, camped out in TV trucks during the sentencing, said he has been at plenty of hearings where the judge summarized the bottom line minimum and maximum time behind bars for the family members, journalists and attorneys present.

Then again, Figler’s also been at hearings where he’s had to decipher the outcome of 60, or even 100, separate sentences.

“It could have been a lot more confusing,” Figler said.

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