A 70-year-old Arkansas man who robbed $264 from a taco shop with a toy water gun in 1981 has been granted clemency 40 years after he was sentenced to life in prison.
Governor Asa Hutchinson said in a press release on Thursday he will commute the sentence of Rolf Kaestel, making him eligible for parole.
Kaestel was convicted on a charge of aggravated robbery and was sentenced to life in prison and a $15,000 fine on June 5, 1981. He has repeatedly appealed for clemency and his fifth appeal was finally approved.
‘The governor has given notice of his intent to commute the sentence of Rolf D. Kaestel, who was convicted in Sebastian County in 1981 for the above offenses, from a total of life in the Arkansas Department of Correction to making him immediately parole eligible,’ the press release reads.
Hutchinson noted there were no objections from law enforcement to Kaestel’s request for clemency.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, left , has said he will commute the sentence of Rolf Kaestel, 70, right, making him immediately eligible for parole 40 years after he was sentenced to life in prison
The commutation was hailed by Dennis Schluterman, pictured, who was working at Senor Bob’s Taco Hut when he was robbed
In his latest application, Kaestel wrote that he ‘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.’
‘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,’ he wrote.
‘The ends of justice have been served with the unrelenting four decades of my incarceration to date.’
Kaestel is not yet free and is currently imprisoned in Utah, NewsNation Now reported. There’s a 30-day waiting period to receive public feedback before the governor’s decision can become final.
The formal proclamation of Kaestel’s commutation will be issued on August 4 – when he will then become eligible for parole.
The parole board, which has recommended him for clemency three times, is then expected to approve his release from prison.
His case and the sentence he’d received had received attention from criminal justice reform advocates. The taco shop employee who handed the money over to Kaestel during the robbery has also called for his release.
Kaestel, pictured, is also known for being a whistleblower in the 1999 prison blood bank scandal, during which people worldwide were allegedly infected with HIV and Hepatitis C
The formal proclamation of Kaestel’s commutation will be issue will be issued on August 4 – when he will then become eligible for parole, which is expected to be granted
Dennis Schluterman, who was working at Senor Bob’s Taco Hut, appealed to then-Gov. Mike Beebe in a video posted to YouTube on Oct. 29, 2014. He is pictured younger in a Facebook photo
Schluterman, pictured, found out Kaestel was still in prison 25 years later and was ‘shocked’ at the news
Dennis Schluterman, who was working at Senor Bob’s Taco Hut, appealed to then-Gov. Mike Beebe in a video posted to YouTube on Oct. 29, 2014.
‘Back in February of 1981, I was working as an employee at Senor Bob’s Taco Hut. I was working in the back and we heard the doorbell ring as customers were coming in. So I walked to the front and there was two guys standing there,’ Schluterman recalled.
‘All the guy did was pull his jacket back, and I saw the gun butt.’
Schluterman recalled Kaestel saying ‘Do you know what that is?’, referring to the gun. Schluterman responded that he did, then put the money in a bag and handed it to Kaestel who then walked out.
‘I immediately got on the phone and called the police,’ Schluterman said.
He said that in the courtroom, when the case went to court, he didn’t notice Kaestel was charged with aggravated robbery.
‘I don’t feel it should have been an aggravated robbery charge because he didn’t threaten me in any way. He didn’t make me feel like I was going to be hurt or anything like that,’ Schluterman said.
Schluterman found out Kaestel was still in prison 25 years later and was ‘shocked’ at the news, he said.
‘Many nights, I sat there and thought about it and thought about it. I couldn’t believe he was still there, so I wrote him a letter,’ Schluterman said.
In the video, Schlutterman breaks down into tears while recalling reading letters that Kaestel had sent to his parents house apologizing for what he had done – but that he had never received.
‘I actually apologized to him because I felt like – even though he was the one that robbed me – I felt like I had taken his life because he had been in there so long. I don’t feel like that’s right and I feel like it’s time for his break to come,’ Schlutterman said.
DailyMail.com has reached out to Schluterman for more information and additional comment.
Schluterman told Daily Beast on Thursday that the commutation ‘felt like a weight lifted off his shoulders.’
‘I’m just glad it finally happened,’ Schluterman told The Daily Beast. ‘It’s something that needed to be done.’
According to the outlet, Kaestel became a paralegal for local law firms while in prison and took enough college courses to nearly earn multiple degrees.
He is also known for being a whistleblower in the 1999 prison blood bank scandal, during which people worldwide were allegedly infected with HIV and Hepatitis C.