The Body in Question   /   Summer 2015   /    Notes And Comments

Throwing Away the Key

Lisa Lorish

When he was eighteen, Rene Lima-Marin and a friend robbed two Colorado video stores of a total of about $11,500, threatening the employees of both establishments with a gun. Each man was charged with two counts of first-degree burglary and three counts of aggravated robbery. Under pressure from years of increasing gang violence in Denver, Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District had answered the growing public outcry with tough new sentencing protocols. Lima-Marin found himself labeled a chronic offender. Offered a sentence of seventy-five years if he would plead guilty, he decided to risk going to trial, hoping that a lenient judge would find some or all of the evidence inadmissible. That didn’t happen, and Lima-Marin ended up paying what the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers calls a “trial penalty.” Convicted, Lima-Marin was sentenced to ninety-eight years.

What makes the case remarkable is what happened next. In what his attorney legitimately believed was the result of an appeal (but was in fact the product of clerical error), Lima-Marin came up for parole after serving only a decade of what was in effect a life sentence. Released, he immediately moved in with his former girlfriend and became her son’s stepfather. He found and held jobs. The couple married, became regular churchgoers, bought a home, and had a son together. Lima-Marin mentored at-risk youth and coached his stepson’s soccer team. He committed no new crimes and successfully completed his five years on parole.

Then, in 2014, five years and eight months after he was released, Lima-Marin received a call notifying him that his release had been a mistake and that a judge had signed the order for his arrest. He was picked up the very same day and, after a quick hearing, was taken back to prison, where he faced at least seventy-five more years before possible parole. He was in his thirties at the time.

—Lisa Lorish

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