Man who’s spent 40 years behind bars for holding up store with water pistol appeals for clemency

<p>(Left) Kaestel pictured in 2007, (Right) A most recent image of Kaestel</p>

(Left) Kaestel pictured in 2007, (Right) A most recent image of Kaestel

YouTube/KellyDuda and The Arkansas Department of Corrections

A man who has served more than forty years in prison after robbing a taco shop with a toy water pistol in 1981 is hoping to have his application for clemency approved.

Rolf Kaestel - who was charged with aggravated robbery and handed a life sentence - stole $264 from the store in Arkansas.

Considering the fact that no one was injured during the robbery, Kaestel’s life sentence is surprisingly severe.

It’s not the first time Kaestel, now 70, has applied for clemency - this latest attempt will make it his fourth application.

Kaestel has made three application since 2012, with both Governor Hutchinson and predecessor Mike Beebe denying him.

He is now appealing to Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson once more, after he previously denied Kaestel clemency back in 2015.

Kaestel will need Gov. Hutchinson on his side, as inmates handed life sentences are not eligible for parole unless the governor specifically reduces their penalty.

If he is denied again this time around, Kastel will have to wait until 2025 to be eligible for another attempt.

As Kaestel has no living relatives to fight his corner, local activists are campaigning for his release.

“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.

During his four decade stint in jail, Kaestel has earned three associate's degrees and has a job in the prison library.

Van Jones, founding CEO of Reform Alliance said: “A man's life is worth a lot more than $264.

“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.”

On that fateful night, Kaestel robbed Dennis Schluterman, who was 17 at the time, was working behind the counter at Senor Bob's Taco Hut.

Schulterman asked Kaestel and his accomplice Terry Joe Spitler for their order when Kaestel then proceeded to lift up his coat to reveal a toy water pistol.

Kaestel asked: “Do you know what that means?”

Instinctively, Schulterman handed over the cash, telling the Daily Beast: “I've never been robbed before. That's something you just don't forget.”

Half an hour later, Kaestel was caught and police recovered the money and found the toy water gun his used to commit the crime.

“He didn't seem dangerous to me. He seemed more desperate than dangerous,” Schulterman added.

“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.”

Over the years, Schulterman has called on Kaestel to be released.

“It's time for his break to come. He needs to be set free,” he declared in a video to the Arkansas Governor in 2013.

Kaestel, himself shared his confusion at his harsh sentence in a letter to the Daily Beast.

“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.”

“I was guilty,” he added, “'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…”

September 3 is the deadline for Gov. Hutchinson to decide whether to not to approve Kaestel’s latest clemency application.

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