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.
We have two updates from Mike Romano this week.
April 19, 2021 — We are extraordinarily happy and proud to announce that our longtime client Richard (Bonaru) Richardson walked free from San Quentin after serving 24 years!
He was greeted at the gates just after sunrise by a large group of supporters, including his wife, cousins and nephews, friends and prison volunteers, and even a senior administrator from the Dept. of Corrections who drove down from Sacramento and a San Quentin Lieutenant who advocated for Richard’s release for years.
In 1998, Richard was sentenced to 47 years for a botched robbery of known drug dealers, where no one was physically injured. While incarcerated, Richard dedicated himself to rehabilitation and self-improvement. He took college classes, joined the San Quentin News team, and eventually worked his way up to become the top editor of the award-winning prison newspaper of record in California. He battled and survived COVID.
In recognition of his hard work and personal transformation, then-Governor Jerry Brown commuted his sentence by over 20 years in 2018. But the parole board blocked his release, reasoning that Richard spent too much time at the newspaper and not enough time in self-help groups. Parole commissioners said they were unconvinced he could “conform to rules of society” such as “running red lights [or] speeding on the highway.” We fought the parole decision in court and, eventually, a new parole board panel reconvened (by video, due to the pandemic) and agreed that Richard deserved to be released.
Richard’s family and supporters left San Quentin and drove a few miles down the road to breakfast at the I-Hop in nearby San Rafael. From there, Richard and his wife checked in with his parole officer and began his reentry program.
He sends the deepest appreciation to all his supporters, including the team at the Three Strikes Project. We’ve known Richard for years, fought for his freedom, and couldn’t be happier or prouder that he’s free and reunited with his loved ones.
Thank you all for your continued support!
April 23, 2021 — Yesterday morning, our client Jerry Hawkins walked out of prison for the first time in 24 years—finally free after being sentenced to life for evading a police officer in 1997 when he was 25 years old.
After over 8 years of litigation, Jerry’s life sentence was reversed under Proposition 36—the Three Strikes Reform Act—and he was ordered immediately released by Superior Court Judge William Ryan. We couldn’t be happier for Jerry or prouder of our team, especially our amazing student, Liz Hannah (SLS ‘20), who drafted the primary briefing on Jerry’s behalf, and our tireless Deputy Director Susan Champion, who represented Jerry in court.
Jerry’s mother died of a drug overdose when he was just two years old, and he never knew his father. He was raised by his maternal grandmother in Los Angeles. During his third strike litigation, a court-appointed psychologist noted his history of multiple suicide attempts, with one as recent as two months before the evaluation (he swallowed razor blades), but found that his mental health did not affect his ability to participate in his trial or mitigate his culpability.
After spending most of his life behind bars, and few surviving family members, Jerry was picked up at the prison gates by Ride Home mentor Moses from the the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. Both men were surprised and overjoyed to discover that they had been housed at High Desert State Prison at the same time.
Jerry and Moses spent the first hours of their drive home to LA talking about all of the possibilities in the free world. “I’m going to Wendy’s to see if they’ve got the beef like the commercials say!” Jerry told us on his way home. Jerry also sends his deepest appreciation to the whole team, including all of our friends and supporters reading this announcement.
We thank you too.
Have a great weekend!