California's Oldest Inmate, 95, May Be Freed After More Than 25 Years in Prison

The state's oldest inmate may be granted his freedom after spending more than 25 years in prison, but he'll have to wait until Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will approve the release.

The state parole board on Thursday recommended that John Rodriguez be freed from the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo. The 95-year-old inmate, who sat in a wheelchair, smiled when his attorney leaned over and told him what had happened.

Rodriguez has been serving a prison sentence of 16 years to life for the December 1981 slaying of his estranged wife, Alisha Trejo, who was found stabbed 26 times with a paring knife. He was convicted of second-degree murder.

Now the decision will be left to Schwarzenegger who has been given the power by California voters to overrule parole board recommendations. The parole board has approved Rodriguez's release seven times but in each previous instance with the governor then in office -- Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Schwarzenegger -- they all refused to grant parole.

Rodriguez's attorney Michael Beckman said his client has done 10 more years than the minimum sentence for second-degree murder and has never been a disciplinary problem. The governors have denied parole largely because of the heinous nature of the crime and concern that Rodriguez would hurt someone else if freed.

"I hope the governor does the right thing -- and quickly," Beckman said.

Schwarzenegger's office said Thursday it would be studying the case before making a decision, which is due within 120 days after the parole board makes its recommendation.

"The governor will make a final determination after careful consideration of the record," said Bill Maile, a spokesman for the governor's office.

Much like Rodriguez, California's prisoners are aging. One recent projection is that by 2030, the state will have 33,000 geriatric prisoners, compared with about 9,500 now.

Last week, two federal court judges in Sacramento suggested that they could take steps that could lead to the early release of thousands of inmates to relieve prison overcrowding. California houses 172,000 inmates in quarters designed to hold fewer than 100,000.