Pro Bono Client Roberto Lazcano Reunited with Family after 24 Years Apart
On April 3, after 20 years of clemency, sentencing credit, and post-conviction petitions, client Roberto Lazcano was released from custody and returned home to his family.
Roberto received a 55-year sentence in 1996 following his conviction as an accomplice to first-degree murder. Roberto was 15 years old at the time of the offense. Following his family’s relocation from Mexico, Roberto was pulled into a gang. At the time of the offense, Roberto and fellow gang member Mario Ramos spotted a car full of boys they believed to be rival gang members. Roberto, on a bike, took Mario towards the car, and Mario shot the driver, Andrew Young. At trial, Roberto was represented by a lawyer later disbarred for incompetence, illegal conduct amounting to fraud, and abusing drugs during the time he represented Roberto. Following Roberto’s sentencing, Mario pleaded guilty and received a 40-year sentence. Mario was released from prison in 2016.
Roberto underwent a remarkable transformation while incarcerated. He had dropped out of school at 14, but in prison, he prioritized education and helping others. He earned a GED and a bachelor’s degree and served as a tutor. Accepting responsibility for his role in the crime and the harm he caused, he sought and received forgiveness from the parents of the victim.
Jenner & Block took Roberto’s case in 2000, after hearing his story from his parents and mentor, Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures, and his colleague Alexandra Garrison. Over the years, the firm filed three clemency petitions for Roberto. Associate Elin I. Park
, former partner Sarah Hardgrove-Koleno, and former associate Nick Kurk drafted the first petition. Partner Caroline L. Meneau
and former partner Elizabeth Coleman drafted the subsequent petitions with assistance from Staff Attorney Anna W. Margasinska
, paralegal Mary Patston, and former associate Shy Jackson.
Between clemency petitions, Caroline and Elizabeth successfully filed a motion that advanced Roberto’s out-date by helping him get credit he was entitled to for his time in juvenile custody. Partner Clifford W. Berlow
, Caroline, Associate Joshua M. Levin
, and Elizabeth also worked on a successful legislative effort to provide further sentencing credit for education for numerous Illinois prisoners.
Roberto’s third clemency petition was filed in 2019. It stressed Roberto’s transformation, incompetent prior representation, and juxtaposed the length of Roberto’s sentence with that of the shooter, Mario, who had already been released on time served. Caroline presented the petition before the panel. She was joined by the victim’s father, Mr. Young, who explained that he forgave Roberto and asked the panel for his release. The State’s Attorney’s Office did not oppose the petition, and remarked that Roberto’s was the unique case fulfilling penological justifications prior to release.
Following a change in juvenile sentencing law, Cliff and Associates Sarah A. Youngblood
and Hanna M. Conger
filed a post-conviction petition arguing for a resentencing hearing crediting Roberto with time served. The post-conviction team was aided by the third clemency petition. The State’s Attorney’s Office agreed not to oppose resentencing. Ultimately, the parties brokered a deal reducing Roberto’s sentence to secure his immediate release. In approving the deal, the court credited Mr. Young’s remarkable support of Roberto through his clemency process.
Roberto was released from IDOC custody on March 19. Following his release, he was taken into ICE custody pending deportation to Mexico. Facing concerns regarding potential COVID-19 infection while detained, Cliff, Hanna, and Sarah counseled Roberto through the deportation process with assistance from Partner Michele L. Slachetka
On April 3, Roberto returned to Mexico. He reunited with his parents after 24 years apart. Last week, a team of current and former lawyers held a zoom video conference with Roberto from his family’s home in Mexico. Roberto is looking forward to the future and grateful for all of the firm’s assistance. In addition to the lawyers named above, the team was aided by two dozen additional time keepers, numerous legal assistants, and docketing.