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.

Yesterday afternoon, Mario Zermeno walked out of prison into the waiting arms of his family after serving 25 years of a life sentence under the Thee Strikes law for stealing a car stereo from a parked car on UCLA’s campus in 1996!

Mario and his family emigrated from Mexico to California when he was just four years old. He dropped out of high school in the 9th grade to work, but eventually found himself involved with drugs and street crime, which ultimately resulted in his Three Strikes sentence. 

While in prison, Mario was placed in solitary confinement for an indefinite period of time, due to suspected involvement with a prison gang, which was ultimately discredited. In 2014, after the Dept. of Corrections reached a statewide settlement to end indefinite segregated housing, authorities concluded that Mario had no connection to gang activity and returned him to the general prison population, where he could continue to participate in prison programs and vocational opportunities.

After eight years (!) of litigation to win his freedom in Los Angeles Superior Court, prosecutors finally agreed that Mario was entitled to relief because he was no longer a threat to public safety. After extensive briefing, reports from three expert witness, several court appearances, arguments, and hearings, the Superior Court judge issued a lengthy opinion granting our petition, vacating Mario’s life sentence, and ordering him immediately released. 

This was yet another terrific team victory with Project students Amy Senia ‘18 and Daniela Muehleisen ‘22 writing briefs in support of Mario’s release, and organizing comprehensive reentry plans for him in both Mexico and California.

Mario is participating in his reentry program, complying with probation and immigration authorities, and reconnecting with his sister, Marisol, who has supported him throughout his incarceration. Most importantly, he was able to hug his daughters who were one and seven years old when he began his prison sentence 25 years ago!

As always, I couldn’t be prouder of our team or happier for Mario and his family!

Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement.

– Mike

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