Rolf Kaestel to finally be released?

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20 Jul 2021, 10:02 pm

The governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, has said he intends to commute the sentence of a man serving life in prison for robbing a taco shop in 1981 with a water pistol.

Hutchinson announced he intended to make Rolf Kaestel immediately eligible for parole. There is a 30-day waiting period to receive public feedback before the governor’s decision can become final.

Kaestel, 70, was convicted of aggravated robbery and sentenced to life in prison after he robbed a Fort Smith taco shop of $264. He was armed only with a water pistol.


For the past 15 years, Rolf Kaestel has sat behind bars in the Utah State Prison, invisible to those who put him there and a mystery of sorts to those who store him.

Ask if you can speak to Kaestel, and Utah officials say they have to ask the state of Arkansas for permission. Ask if Utah knows why they've been paying nearly $28,000 a year to keep him under lock and key, and they say they must consult the state of Arkansas.

And if you ask Arkansas why Kaestel, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for stealing $264 from a Bob's Taco Hut in Fort Smith, Ark., in 1981, why the man is in Utah, they'll say they can't quite recall.

Official records in Arkansas show that Kaestel, a 63-year-old with no living family members who hasn't had a single visitor since arriving in Utah in 1999, was transferred to the Beehive State under what's known as an "interstate compact" agreement because of "noncompliance with the Arkansas system." Explanations of what this means, and what Kaestel may have done to earn his noncompliance status, do not exist.

One thing is absolute: Unless an Arkansas governor commutes Kaestel's sentence from life to, say, 50 years, he will most likely die alone, anonymously and forgotten in the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison.

Kaestel's case, and the man himself, with his large eyeglasses, thinning gray mustache, missing front teeth and bald head, shine a light into a volatile corner of the justice system—the part that doesn't rely so much on concrete law, but more on the whims and moods of the human beings who pull the levers.

Criminals that actually hurt people have been treated with more leniency than Kaestel. As the decades have mounted and he's sat locked away, he's watched murderers, rapists and child molesters walk away free men.

Kaestel, who built a reputation as a respected paralegal in prison and says he is a few credits short of earning multiple bachelor's degrees, knows he can be a productive citizen. Those who knew Kaestel in Arkansas, and the couple of people who have had contact with him in Utah, have no doubt that Kaestel has been vastly over-punished for his crime. And they are equally sure that Kaestel, after spending more than half of his life in prison, deserves to be free.

Kaestel himself believes he deserved punishment for his crime. He broke the law, and with a rocky criminal past, was convicted and had his life taken away.

But he considers the sentence of life without parole for his crime "overkill."

"They've traded out 34 years of my life for $264," he says.


Here is a video from 2014 of the victim of the robbery advocating for his release:

What is interesting about him is that while in jail, he became a whistleblower regarding contaminated blood from the prisoners being sold to pharmaceutical companies and provided to people around the world:
Most of us have read how difficult it has been for whistleblowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowdon since exposing state secrets, now imagine blowing the whistle from behind bars of one of America’s most notorious penitentiaries. That is exactly what Rolf Kaestal did to assist film maker Kelly Duda, giving an interview for his documentary Factor 8, The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal. Rolf exposed serious US human rights violations and spoke out in support of thousands of haemophiliacs worldwide that has received contaminated prison plasma as “treatment” for their bleeding disorder where the blood does not clot.

What haemophiliacs didn’t know at that time of taking the product was the fact that prisoners selling their blood were deliberately injected with deadly viruses including hepatitis as part of unethical prison experimentation which violated the Nuremburg Code. In exchange inmates received a small reduction of their prison sentence. This was just one of a number of gross safety violations.


An overview of the case:

"When people express opinions that differ from yours, take it as a chance to grow. Seek to understand over being understood. Be curious, not defensive. The only way to disarm another human being is by listening." - Glennon Doyle Melton

"Never forget that you have every right to question any individual, system, movement, or group that only tolerates you when you think and behave exactly like them" - Africa Brooke

“There was a saying that a man's true character was revealed in defeat. I thought it was also revealed in victory.”
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