For nearly 30 years, Alfred Trenkler has been in prison for building a pipe bomb that exploded and killed a Boston police officer as he tried to defuse it in a Roslindale driveway. Trenkler now wants his life sentence at a federal penitentiary in Tucson cut short.
Trenkler, 64, is one of hundreds asking for compassionate release, arguing that his heart condition puts him at high risk for COVID-19.
Trenkler is “uniquely vulnerable to severe illness and death,” according to his emergency motion for compassionate release, filed Jan. 15 in US District Court in Massachusetts. The 31-page motion said Trenkler must be set free as soon as possible “lest a questionable sentence become a death sentence.”
The four children of bomb squad Officer Jeremiah Hurley Jr., the officer killed in October 1991, oppose Trenkler’s request, according to news reports, as does the warden at the Tucson penitentiary.
Originally established under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, compassionate release is an inmate’s early release on “extraordinary and compelling” grounds. It is generally reserved for terminally ill prisoners with a life expectancy of fewer than 18 months. Judges tend to give highest consideration to those who have served at least half of their sentence.
Trenkler’s lawyers wrote in court documents that a COVID-19 outbreak at the Tucson penitentiary where he is incarcerated infected 900 prisoners, or 75 percent of the inmate population. Nine of those prisoners died, they wrote in a Feb. 1 filing.
Trenkler is among 419 federal inmates from Massachusetts who have made a bid to be released early amid COVID-19 concerns, according to the Department of Justice. Only 88 have been successful.
Defense lawyers have been arguing that inmates are sitting ducks as COVID-19 infections surge around them.
But victims, their families, prosecutors, and legal observers view compassionate release as a legal swindle to gain undeserved freedom.
If granted in Trenkler’s case, it would allow “a dangerous killer to roam the same streets he brought blood to,” a concerned South Boston resident wrote to the judge hearing Trenkler’s petition, Rya W. Zobel.
The judge has not issued a ruling. Federal prosecutors on Trenkler’s case called it another effort in a “kaleidoscopic” array of attempts by Trenkler to get out of his life sentence or overturn his 1993 conviction.
Trenkler has maintained his innocence and claimed wrongful conviction. Jurors and a judge from the case later questioned the evidence in the high profile case and took up Trenkler’s cause; the Innocence Project also has taken interest.
Trenkler has tested negative for COVID-19 five times since November and his health issues are being “appropriately monitored,” said D. Colbert, the warden at the prison where Trenkler is held.
“The Bureau of Prisons was taking extraordinary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Colbert added.
Nationwide, there are currently 1,867 inmates out of a population of 137,264 with confirmed active cases of COVID-19, according to the Bureau of Prisons. COVID-19 has killed 217 federal inmates, according to the bureau.
As for vaccinations, more than half of the bureau’s facilities have received doses, and 6,508 inmates have been inoculated. The aim is to have vaccinations delivered to every site by mid-February, according to the bureau.
The number of active cases among staff and prisoners at the penitentiary in Tucson has fluctuated in recent weeks, records show.
On Jan. 25, the penitentiary’s website showed 33 inmates and 72 staff members with confirmed active cases of COVID-19. By Feb. 9, the website showed 1 inmate and 70 staff members with confirmed active cases.
The flood of compassionate release motions demonstrates that defense lawyers ran to the rescue of inmates when no one else would, said defense lawyer Dana L. Goldblatt.
Goldblatt won early release for her client, 50-year-old Leo Oladimu.
Oladimu was at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island with nine weeks of his 21-year prison sentence left to serve. He had been convicted on explosives and counterfeit money charges.
“There really was no coordinated plan in the US to get people out safely,” Goldblatt said. “What you saw was the defense bar stepping into the fray and doing, on a case-by-case basis, what other countries were doing with a single global order.”
Early on in the pandemic, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and human rights activists pushed for reduced prison populations to the slow the transmission of the coronavirus.
Turkey’s Parliament passed a law allowing temporary release of 45,000 prisoners; Iran released 85,000 detainees temporarily; Indonesia released at least 30,000; and Brazil said it released 3,000.
Oladimu is one of the 88 US federal inmates to win early freedom. He cited high-blood pressure, a mini-stroke, a chronic abnormal heartbeat, and other health issues as high-risk factors. Oladimu was released the same day he went before a judge to ask for compassionate release — Dec. 11.
“It’s nine weeks early,” Oladimu said in a telephone interview. “Every day counts.”
Tonya Alanez can be reached at email@example.com or 617-929-1579. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.