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USC student helps gain parole for grandmother

March 11, 2010 6:31:25 PM PST
Some good news for Rosa Maria Sanchez: She is going to be paroled from a Chino prison after the governor declined to intervene. One of 2,600 inmates here at the California Institution for Women, Rosa Sanchez of Los Angeles has served 23 years of a 25-years-to-life sentence. And a second-year law student at the University of Southern California led the efforts to get the women released.

In 1985, Rosa Sanchez operated a store in the L.A. garment district. When a nearby rival's shop burnt down, a man sleeping in the shop died. Sanchez was arrested and found guilty of murder. She's been in prison for 23 years.

Jennifer Farrell, a second-year law student at the USC Gould School of Law, is working to gain Sanchez's release.

"Unfortunately, her public defender did not do a good job in her initial trial. Apparently he spoke for about 30 minutes and then rested the case," said Farrell.

Farrell said credible alibi witnesses were not called in the trial. The inmate's four children grew into adults and there are grandchildren now. At previous hearings before the parole board, the family was disappointed. But last October the board ruled that Sanchez was suitable for release if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approves. The family has sent the governor letters and e-mails.

"Oh yeah, we send letters," said Gus Sanchez, Rosie's son. "'Please, let my mom free.' Not to revoke her freedom. She's been here a very long time already. It's been a long time, it's been very hard. My mom is innocent. When my mom got her sentence, it wasn't just her, it was all of us that got the sentence."

One letter that might have an impact on the decision was sent by Sam Bubrick, the commissioner presiding over Sanchez's trial. He urged the governor to permit her to be released on parole.

"The jury's decision in her trial," said Bubrick in the letter, "has always continued to haunt me because it was one of the few times in my 59 years as a lawyer that I think justice was not served."

"I knew that the criminal justice system was not 100 percent perfect. But it is heartbreaking to see a woman who's been incarcerated here for 23 years for a crime that she didn't commit," said Farrell.

Governor Schwarzenegger was to make a decision Friday. The governor's office said each parole case is considered carefully and individually based on the inmate's record.

But good news came early for the Sanchez family. The governor's office in Sacramento late Thursday evening said governor refused to review the case. He is deferring to the parole board's decision that she is suitable for release, and as a result, Rosa Sanchez will be released on parole.