An Arkansas man who was sentenced to serve life in prison after robbing a taco shop with a water pistol in 1981 has finally been granted release after 40 years behind bars. Rolf Kaestel was convicted of aggravated robbery of the Fort Smith shop in which no one was hurt and he made off with $264. He’s been fighting for his freedom ever since, making five clemency bids over the past four decades. Now, the 70-year-old will finally get his wish.
- Even the victim of the robbery has campaigned for his release. Kaestel wasn’t just fighting for himself – criminal justice reform advocates have been behind him and pushed for his release along with the employee on duty the night he robbed the shop.
- Kaestel believes he still has a lot to contribute. As per The Guardian, Kaestel wrote in his most recent clemency request that he believes that he can still make a positive difference in the world despite his advanced age. “[I] may yet have a few reasonably energetic and productive years remaining to me in which I may still make a truly substantive contribution to society,” he wrote. “I believe that I have demonstrated that I deserve the chance to do so, and I appeal for your consideration and favorable action to allow me to begin a new life. The ends of justice have been served with the unrelenting four decades of my incarceration to date.”
- The governor of Arkansas plans to commute his sentence. The decision by Governor Asa Hutchinson means that Kaestel will be immediately eligible for parole, though there is a 30-day waiting period before the decision is final. However, there has been no pushback from law enforcement and it’s doubtful anyone would object.
- The prison industrial complex in America needs a major overhaul. While criminals should indeed be punished for their crimes, the historical purpose of prison is to rehabilitate offenders so that they can go on to live a successful life outside. Ordering someone to spend life in prison for a nonviolent crime is not only counterproductive, it goes against everything the system should stand for.