Clinic wins clemency for Everett man

November 09, 2016

The law school's Youth Advocacy Clinic recently won clemency for Robert King, a 63-year-old Everett man sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In 2014, after almost two decades in prison, King wrote to Professor Paul Holland seeking legal assistance. Students worked on his case throughout the 2014-15 school year. Gov. Jay Inslee approved the request in September 2016, and King has now returned to his family.

The clinic has handled several clemency cases in recent years. Despite the apparent anomaly of representing older clients in the Youth Advocacy Clinic, Professor Holland sees the clemency work as a perfect complement to the students' other work representing clients in Juvenile Court.

Paul Holland"We're seeing people at the beginning and end of their experiences with the criminal justice system, and I think that's valuable for the students," he said. "It broadens their perspective and equips them to advocate at all stages of the process."

Angelina Petrosyan '15, one of the clinic students, said she was initially daunted by the seriousness of Mr. King's crimes and the work that lay ahead. "But when I met Mr. King, I could tell that the man in front of me wasn't the man that I had read about in his files," she said.

In 1996, King was convicted in Snohomish County Superior Court of second-degree attempted assault after he reached for a gun when stopped by police in the midst of a robbery. Because it was his third conviction for what the three-strikes law classifies as a "most serious offense," he was sentenced to life without parole.

While in prison, however, King dedicated himself to living his life fully in accord with his Christian faith. He took responsibility for his actions. He became a role model and leader among inmates, often mentoring younger prisoners who needed guidance as they prepared for their return to society. He served his time with integrity, earning the trust and respect of prison staff.

Now that he's free, he's working with Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe '86 to volunteer as a mentor in Drug Court, a diversion program for people charged with drug-related crimes.

"This life that I live now is beautiful. I know that I'm not the same person I was back then," King said. "I want other men and women to know that you can change. You don't have to get caught up in the darkness. Now I'm living in the light and the light feels really good."

The law students who worked on King's case knew that capturing his story in a compelling narrative was crucial to the success of a clemency petition.

"There aren't any strict and rigid guidelines about what has to be in a clemency petition," said clinic student Ben Sweeney '15. "In other motions, you know that if you hit a certain threshold, the facts will play out on your side. This was much more nebulous. We knew we had to get a strong grasp of who he was and let his full character flow through the petition."

The students looked wherever they could to make the case that Mr. King's case was "extraordinary," as is required for the granting of clemency. "Whether the clemency board would see it as extraordinary we didn't really know, but we got as many people as we could find to support him," she said. "We interviewed his fiancée, his son, his son's wife, his friends, his pastor."

Professor Holland found an unexpected ally in Prosecutor Roe, who opted not to oppose the petition for clemency. Roe reviewed King's criminal history, interviewed his family, and visited King in person before making his decision. "I told him, 'Robert, you were the poster boy for the three-strikes law. But that was then and this is now,'" he said. 

Shortly after King's clemency hearing, he discovered that he has advanced liver cancer. He spends much of his newfound freedom at medical appointments and in treatment. Though he's lost a substantial amount of weight, his spirit remains strong. 

"I don't think God has given me all that He's given me to just have this be the end," King said. "There's more life on Earth for Robert King. I'll just take it a day at a time."