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.

Hello friends,

Early this morning, our client Malcolm McGee walked free from federal prison, when after years of litigation, his mandatory sentence of life without parole for a nonviolent drug crime was overturned! We could not be happier for Malcolm and his family or prouder of our team of students, lawyers, and staff who helped win his freedom.

21 years ago, Malcolm was convicted and sentenced to mandatory life without the possibility of parole under the federal Three Strikes law for his part in a bungled, nonviolent drug crime in Oklahoma. Despite little hope that he would ever be released, he was a model inmate— he earned his GED, took college courses, and was an exceptional worker. He gained the respect of his supervisors and correctional officers, who gave him outstanding performance ratings and promotions. One of his correctional counselors even asked if he could write a letter in support of Malcolm’s release, but federal prison regulations prevented him from doing so.

Malcolm’s release comes after a great victory in March in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which interpreted the federal First Step Act in his favor and reversed a lower court ruling that there was no authority to reduce Malcolm’s sentence. Malcolm is one of hundreds of federal prisoners across the country impacted by this important precedent from the 10th Circuit.

Despite our victory in the court of appeals, the lower court still had the authority to keep Malcolm in prison for life, and federal prosecutors in Oklahoma argued for just that. However, after briefing and argument, the Northern District Court in Oklahoma agreed that “extraordinary and compelling circumstances” warranted vacating Malcolm’s life sentence, and, with credit for good behavior, Malcolm was finally released at 5am this morning.

Malcolm’s release is especially emotional for us, as we have been seeking his freedom in every venue we could imagine for the past five years. None of this would have been possible without the work of our amazing students, Maddie Coles (’22), Jeff Ho (’20), Artemis Seaford (’17), and John Bonacorsi (’19), all of whom worked tirelessly on Malcolm’s behalf. 

Malcolm was met by his wife Sheila early this morning, who brought him home for a reunion with his large family, including his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, some of whom he’s meeting for the very first time as a free man. He says his deepest appreciation to the whole Three Strikes Project team—especially the students who worked on his case: “They’re beasts!” he said this morning. (We agree!)


We are also very happy and proud to announce that one of our former clients, Joe Mason, will be honored as an “employee of the year” by the Chief Probation Officers of California at a statewide reception next month!

Joe was sentenced to life under California’s Three Strikes law for breaking into a garage in Marin County. He was released three years ago as one of the first recipients of a “second look” sentencing provision based on his exceptional conduct while incarcerated. Despite support from prison authorities, prosecutors opposed his release at the time. After the court overruled those objections and agreed to re-sentence and release him, Joe was recruited to help other prisoners preparing for their release by the Alameda County Probation Department.

Now Joe’s hard work is being recognized once again, and we couldn’t be happier or prouder of his success and accomplishments. 

Thank you all for your continued support!

– Mike

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