CRIME STORY has received permission to re-print Michael Romano‘s newsletters from Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project whose mission is to reverse the most unjust criminal sentences. Romano and his colleague Susan Champion were interviewed by Amanda Knox for CRIME STORY and you can find the podcast and the transcript of that interview here. You can find a story about Romano’s participation in a U.S. Congressional field hearing on criminal justice reform here. You can find past issues of Romano‘s newsletter here.

This is a big one.

After serving 24 years of a life sentence for shoplifting three cans of instant coffee from a drugstore in San Mateo, our longtime client Dennis Barnes was freed from San Quentin State Prison!

“It is so good to be free, you cannot believe it,” Dennis told me from his reentry program in Monterey. “I woke up, made three pieces of toast—with real butter—and took a shower by myself for the first time in over 20 years!”

Dennis served three terms of duty in Vietnam and suffers from combat-related PTSD. He was never in trouble with the law before the war, and only received treatment for his trauma while incarcerated. Dennis says life turned for the better when he was an inmate working in a prison hospice unit, aiding fellow inmates in their last days, and a doctor introduced him to counseling services. Over the decades, he received numerous commendations from prison staff and administrators from all levels of the Dept. of Corrections, recommendations for release from former military officials, prison psychological evaluations that he was “low risk” to reoffend, and he became a “model” inmate with no serious rules violations. He caught COVID-19 while at San Quentin, and San Mateo County prosecutors opposed his release throughout. He was finally freed by the parole board.

As some of you may remember, we litigated— and lost —Dennis’ case in San Mateo Superior Court last December. Dennis never gave up hope and eventually impressed parole commissioners that he had served enough time and was ready to rejoin society.

Dennis sends special thanks to Project student Peter Jorgensen (SLS ’20), who met with Dennis in San Quentin, developed novel legal strategies, drafted pleadings, and coached him through his case. “I can’t thank Peter and the whole team enough,” Dennis said. “I love you all.”

Dennis is now 70 years old. Thankfully, he recovered from COVID without any complications. He was transported directly from San Quentin to a long term reentry home called “Veterans Healing Veterans.” He says he’s near the ocean and looks forward to taking a kayak out among the otters and seals in Monterey Bay.

Dennis knows it will be a slow road to full re-assimilation to the community, especially in these unusual times. But he seems content and well cared for at the VA program, and truly appreciative of his new chance at freedom.

Thank you all for your continued interest and support for our work!

– Mike

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