Calling it a “question of justice,” Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday granted a full and unconditional pardon to Rene Lima-Marin, the Aurora man who has faced deportation to Cuba since being freed from prison earlier this week in a spectacular case that caught the attention of the nation.
“We were convinced this was the right thing to do,” Hickenlooper said in a news conference at the state Capitol. He added, “In this case, basic justice is pretty clear.”
It was the first time the Democrat has granted a pardon since he took office more than six years ago.
In 2008, Lima-Marin was mistakenly released from prison 90 years before completing his sentence for robberies he took part in a decade earlier with an accomplice. After he rebuilt his life, becoming a glazier and a husband and father to two sons, nearly six years after his release officials discovered a clerical error — he was supposed to serve his sentences consecutively, not concurrently — and threw Lima-Marin back in prison.
District Court Chief Judge Carlos Samour, Jr., ordered Lima-Marin, 38, released on Tuesday, criticizing “the government’s conscience-shocking deliberate indifference and the appalling consequences of the protracted, unjustifiable, and extremely prejudicial delay in re-incarcerating Lima-Marin” in a lengthy ruling.
But instead of freeing Lima-Marin, authorities on Wednesday turned him over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE officials said they intend to deport Lima-Marin, who was granted permanent residency in the 1980s after his refugee parents brought him to the United States from Cuba as an infant.
The Legislature last month asked Hickenlooper to grant Lima-Martin clemency in a resolution sponsored by state Reps. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, and state Sens. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and Dominick Moreno, D-Thornton.
Williams and state Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, petitioned the governor on Thursday to pardon Lima-Marin, arguing that erasing his criminal record would give ICE no reason to hold him.
“The General Assembly has already expressed that he has earned a clemency ‘due to the dramatic positive changes he has made in his life.’ It would be the highest act of cruelty in this case if at the cusp of Lima-Marin about to once again join his wife, Jasmine, and their two sons for a life of freedom, that he be sent away forever,” Rosenthal and Williams wrote.
Quoting Alexander Hamilton, Hickenlooper said on Friday, “The first duty of society is justice.” The governor said that in the time between his stays in prison Lima-Marin had “demonstrated an ability to contribute to the fabric of his community and Colorado” and said he agreed with Samour, who wrote in the decision freeing Lima-Marin that detaining him further would be “draconian.”
“I just got off the phone with his wife,” Hickenlooper added, “who, needless to say, was ecstatic.”
In a statement, Williams said he was grateful to the governor “for his incredible act of mercy and humanitarian relief to Rene and his family.”
“This was never a partisan issue,” Williams said, adding that he was honored to work with Rosenthal, Salazar, Hill and Moreno on the endeavor. “All three branches of our Colorado government came together to reunite Rene with his family, and at the end of the day, that is what matters most,” he said.
Salazar called it a “wonderful pleasure” to be able to say that the governor had pardoned Lima-Marin. “I’m proud to have worked with Rep. Dave Williams, the Governor and his staff, Rene’s family and his legal team for this storybook ending,” Salazar said in a statement. “It was never about partisanship, never about the politics,” he said. “It was simply about a good man who suffered an injustice, and it was about his family praying for miracles!”
“When government gets in the way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it’s our job as elected representatives of the people to preserve those rights,” Hill said in a statement, adding that he was grateful the governor had joined with lawmakers to resolve the matter.
Hans Meyer, Lima-Marin’s immigration attorney, hailed the governor’s action and said he had just spoken to his client, who was “stunned.”
He sounded a note of caution, however.
“Rene’s immigration fight is still not over,” Meyer said. “We still have critical and immediate work to do to prevent his deportation and reunite him with his family. We hope that ICE will work with us to release Rene from custody and allow us to reopen his immigration case, restore his lawful permanent status, and reunite with his family. Thanks to this important step by the governor, we are one step closer to reuniting Rene with his wife and children.”