Rolf Kaestel robbed an Arkansas taco shop when he was 30, in 1981 and has been behind bars ever since
A man who was sentenced to life in jail after robbing a taco shop with a toy water gun in 1981 is hoping to have his application for clemency approved forty years later.
Rolf Kaestel robbed the store in Fort Smith, Arkansas near the Oklahoma state line and stole $264.
He was handed a life sentence having been charged with aggravated robbery.
Nobody was injured during the incident, making his penalty of life behind bars unusually severe.
Kaestel, who is now 70, has appealed to Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who previously denied him clemency in 2015.
If he is rejected for a fourth time, he will not be eligible to make another application until 2025.
State law means inmates given life sentences are not eligible for parole unless the governor specifically commutes their penalty.
Kaestel showed the butt of a toy water pistol to Dennis Schluterman who was 17 at the time. He has since been campaigning for his release over the extremely harsh sentence
Kaestel has requested clemency three times since 2012 but Governor Hutchinson and predecessor Mike Beebe have both rejected the application.
On the night of the crime in 1981, Kaestel walked into Senor Bob’s Taco Hut where Dennis Schluterman, who was 17 at the time, was working behind the counter.
When he asked Kaestel and his accomplice, Terry Joe Spitler what they wanted to order, Kaestel pulled back his cost to reveal the butt of a toy gun.
‘Do you know what that means?’ Kaestel said.
Schluterman handed the pair a stash of cash. ‘I’ve never been robbed before. That’s something you just don’t forget,’ Schluterman said to The Daily Beast.
The decision rests with Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who has until September 3rd to make a decision having previously denied him in 2015
Kaestel was caught by police as he left a nearby convenience store about half an hour after the crime had been committed.
Police recovered the money and found the toy gun on the floor of his car.
Kaestel ‘didn’t do more than pull his coat back,’ Schluterman said. ‘He didn’t seem dangerous to me. He seemed more desperate than dangerous.
‘What they did was wrong, but man, they were just so far out of town and it was Sunday night and they were out of money, out of gas, it was cold outside. I felt sorry for them after I found out what they did and why they did it.’
Schluterman has since spent years pleading for Kaestel’s release.
‘It’s time for his break to come. He needs to be set free,’ Schluterman said in a video message in 2013 directed at the Governor.
‘And if you really want to know, I believe that the state owes him. I know you wouldn’t see it that way, but this man has paid the price 10 times over, and it’s time, it’s time for you to let him go.’
‘A man’s life is worth a lot more than $264,’ Jones, left, founding CEO of Reform Alliance, Van Jones, which looks to overhaul probation and parole programs. ‘Statistically he’s no longer a threat—he’s 70 years old. He should not die in prison because he robbed someone with a water gun. He paid his debt over and over again,’ said Democratic State Rep. Vivian Flowers, right
‘I just don’t feel like Rolf should have to spend another day in prison.
‘It’s not right, is all I want people to know and, if possible, to stand up and support us to help him get out. His life’s running out. His time is running out. God, give him a little bit of something. It wasn’t that bad of a crime to be doing that kind of time,’ Schluterman said in an interview with The Daily Beast.
‘When I sit here by myself and think about it, think of all the years he’s lost over it, that’s what gets me down,’ he said.
‘I have not been able to make any sense of it,’ Kaestel himself wrote in a letter to the publication, ‘not because it’s me or my case but because this kind of thing should not happen anywhere to anyone.
‘I was guilty,’ Kaestel wrote ‘I simply hoped and believed that jurors would do real justice… And I thought that a sentence of 10 years, or even 20 or 25 years would have been more than sufficient…’
Instead, jurors delivered a life sentence and a $15,000 fine.
‘I have not been able to make any sense of it, not because it’s me or my case but because this kind of thing should not happen anywhere to anyone.’ Kaestel himself wrote in a letter to The Daily Beast
Although he no longer has any living relatives fighting his case, local activists are lobbying for him.
‘Statistically he’s no longer a threat—he’s 70 years old. He should not die in prison because he robbed someone with a water gun. He paid his debt over and over again,’ said Democratic State Rep. Vivian Flowers.
Since being incarcerated, Kaestel has gained three associate’s degrees and multiple college credits. He has also taught astronomy classes and has a job in the prison library.
‘A man’s life is worth a lot more than $264,’ Jones, founding CEO of Reform Alliance, Van Jones, which looks to overhaul probation and parole programs.
‘When people make bad decisions, society should make good decisions about how to correct them and get them back on their way. Obviously Rolf made a bad decision but society made a worse decision in throwing his entire life away over that one day.’ Jones said
‘I don’t think anybody would think he hasn’t more than repaid his debt to society after decades behind bars for an offense that didn’t cost anyone their lives.’
Governor Hutchinson has until September 3 to decide on Kaestel’s latest bid for clemency.
Even the victim of the crime, Schluterman, who was working in the taco shop said Kaestel has more than paid the price and now deserves to be released and to live out the rest of his days as a free man