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.

Fernando Rocha’s life sentence has been vacated, and he walked out of RJ Donovan Prison near San Diego a free man—with the blessing of the Los Angeles Superior Court and District Attorney’s Office that put him in prison 24 years ago!

In 1997, Fernando and a friend were convicted of carjacking. Fernando had never been to prison before, and at his sentencing pled to the court:

“I ask that you don’t give me a life sentence because you see me crying. It’s just that I understand the impact of what I’ve done. No matter if you give me life, I am going to change. No matter if I’m in prison the rest of my life, I am going to change. Like you say, I have hurt not only my victims but also my family. I love them.”

The judge was unmoved and imposed a life sentence under the Three Strikes law, with an opportunity for parole after 40 years. At the time, Fernando’s children were one and three years old. 

Over the past decades in prison, Fernando kept in close contact with his family and his word to the court. He dedicated himself to his rehabilitation, including training dogs to become service animals for people with disabilities. He earned the respect of prison officials, all the way up to the Secretary of the Department of Corrections, who formally recommended that his life sentence be recalled based on his “exceptional conduct” while incarcerated. After reviewing the prison record, including Fernando’s rehabilitation certifications, the recommendations from prison officials, and briefing by our amazing staff attorney Milena Blake, the prosecution joined our motion for Fernando’s release.

At the new hearing, Superior Court Judge Yvette Verastegui read from the 1997 trial transcript, and expressed her admiration that Fernando kept his promises. She vacated his life sentence, ordered him immediately released, and wished him well.

Walking free from RJ Donovan prison, Fernando headed to his residential reentry program in Los Angeles and reunited with his daughters. 

We are extremely happy for him, admire his hard work and commitment despite little realistic chance he would ever be freed, proud of our legal team led by Milena, grateful to the DA and judge who agreed to Fernando’s release—and of course wish him and his family all the best of luck and happiness in the world.

Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement!

– Mike

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