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Man serving life for bombing death of Boston police officer seeks release because of coronavirus risk

Alfred Trenkler, who says he could die if infected, once declined the vaccine and now wants it, but the supply has run out temporarily

Alfred Trenkler shown at age 36 in Boston Municipal Court on charges related to a bombing that killed a police officer and maimed another in 1991.
Alfred Trenkler shown at age 36 in Boston Municipal Court on charges related to a bombing that killed a police officer and maimed another in 1991.Herald, Boston Pool photo

Nearly 30 years after one Boston police officer was killed and another was maimed when a bomb exploded in a Roslindale driveway, their families urged a federal judge Thursday to deny a request for compassionate release by the man who is serving a life sentence for building the deadly device.

Alfred Trenkler listened in by telephone from the US Penitentiary Tucson as his lawyers argued during a Zoom hearing that the 65-year-old was at risk of dying if he contracts the coronavirus because he suffers from a heart condition, obesity, and hypertension and is a former smoker. Prosecutors opposed Trenkler’s release and noted in court filings that he declined the COVID-19 vaccine when it was offered in March.

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Trenkler’s potential release inflamed the families of Officer Jeremiah Hurley Jr., who was killed in the 1991 blast, and his partner, Francis X. Foley, who lost an eye and was unable to return to his police job.

“My Dad lives with these nightmares of his friend,” said Foley’s son, Frank.

He sobbed as he told the judge that his father was at a rehabilitation center, where he is recovering from a stroke, and his family had made the difficult decision not to tell him about Trenkler’s efforts to win release because they want to protect him. He said his once strong father suffers from severe anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder and often barricades himself in his room.

“He’s riddled from fear, not from Mr. Trenkler, but people like Mr. Trenkler,” Foley said. “My father is afraid of evil people now.”

Foley, who is a Boston firefighter, noted that Hurley’s children are also first responders, and all of them have made sacrifices and faced risks while working throughout the pandemic.

“It has been scary times, but we didn’t choose to kill a person,” Foley said. “Alfred Trenkler chose his fate.”

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US District Judge William E. Smith, who is sitting in federal court in Providence, took Trenkler’s request under advisement and said he hopes to rule within a few weeks.

Trenkler was convicted by a federal jury in 1993 of plotting with 21-year-old Thomas A. Shay to build the bomb that was meant to target Shay’s father. The elder Shay called police to his Roslindale home after the suspicious device fell from the undercarriage of his car as he pulled into the driveway. The bomb detonated as it was being examined by Hurley and Foley, who were on the Boston Police Department’s bomb squad.

Hurley’s daughter, Leanne Hurley Teehan told the judge Thursday that she was frustrated and disgusted that a team of lawyers was working to try to help Trenkler get released, and believed her family had deliberately been kept in the dark for months about those efforts.

“These wounds have never healed,” said Teehan, a Boston police officer, describing how her father died at age 50, leaving behind four children. She described the pain of graduations, weddings, and holidays without him.

One of Hurley’s grandsons, Connor Powell, read letters to the judge from each of Hurley’s 11 grandchildren, describing the devastating impact of his death.

A year ago, Trenkler requested compassionate release from the warden at the Arizona prison. After his petition was denied, his lawyers filed an emergency motion in federal court in January, arguing that his advanced age and severe cardiac disease “put him at grave risk of severe illness and death” if he contracted the coronavirus.

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In court filings, his lawyers, retired federal judge Nancy Gertner, Scott Lopez, and Amy Barsky, wrote that Trenkler had declined the COVID-19 vaccine in March because he had just returned from the hospital, where he had been told the vaccine could have a negative impact on his heart.

“Having since been informed that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and indicated for people with heart conditions, Mr. Trenkler requested a vaccine,” they wrote. By then, prison officials had administered all available vaccines and told Trenkler he would have to wait until the next round of doses arrived, prosecutors said.

As of February, an outbreak at the Arizona penitentiary where Trenkler is serving his sentence had infected 900 inmates, or 75 percent of the population, and left nine dead, according to Trenkler’s lawyers.

During Thursday’s hearing, Assistant US Attorney Robert Richardson said about half of the inmates at USP Tucson has been vaccinated and currently none are infected by the coronavirus.

But Barsky said Trenkler has repeatedly been hospitalized for his heart condition and “is not out of the danger zone,” because there’s a risk of another surge in COVID-19 cases as variants spread.

The judge said he has received requests for compassionate release from other inmates and stayed rulings in those cases, while he monitors efforts to contain the coronavirus.

“We all recognize this pandemic is not over,” Smith said. “Right now it’s in a good place, but that could change. And it could change fast.”

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Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.