Two convicted killers who were granted compassionate release in January while hospitalized with COVID-19, and on ventilators, were sent back to prison Monday after recovering from the virus, according to authorities.
Sixty-one-year-old John Stoteand 57-year-old Nelson Rodriguez are the first inmates to have their medical parole revoked under the state’s compassionate release law because of an improvement in their medical condition, according to Jake Wark, a spokesman for the parole board. They face a parole hearing within the next two weeks to determine “whether they continue to meet the statutory criteria for medical parole eligibility in light of their continuing recovery,” he said. A date has yet to be set.
The move comes a month after the daughter of a Springfield restaurant owner who was murdered by Stote blasted state officials for releasing him because they believed he was likely to die, then allowing him to remain free after he recovered and was moved to a rehabilitation facility.
“He wasn’t sick enough to die, and that would be the only reason that you should get medical parole,” said Maureen Regan Moriarty, whose father, John Regan, was stabbed to death by Stote in 1995, his body wrapped in a blanket and dumped in the Connecticut River. “The good news is you’re not dead, the bad news is you get to finish your sentence. That to me is fair.”
She said she was relieved that Stote, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole, was back behind bars.
But attorneys for the two inmates said they remain seriously ill and contend the parole board violated the law by abruptly returning them to prison, without any written policy or advance warning.
Stote’s attorney, Mark Bluver, said in an email that he plans to challenge the legality of Stote’s parole revocation and said he was “simply grabbed and taken out of the hospital” by a parole officer, without any notice, paperwork, or call to his lawyer.
“He did not die from COVID — nevertheless,” according to the [Department of Correction] Commissioner in her letter granting medical parole, even if he survived COVID, he would still be “permanently incapacitated,” Bluver said. “Mr. Stote is wheelchair bound, cannot get out of bed by himself, cannot dress himself, has open wounds from the time he was on a ventilator, has no use of left hand post-COVID, and has vertigo.”
He added, “What the Parole Board did was unspeakable.”
Rodriguez’ attorney, Rebecca Rose, called his treatment by the parole board “inhumane and cruel.”
Rodriguez was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting 18-year-old Felipe Barros outside a New Bedford church in 1997, He was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 15 years, but was denied parole twice. In December, he was hospitalized with COVID-19. He spent several weeks on a ventilator, and was not expected to survive when he was granted medical parole in January, according to Rose.
“He has recovered from COVID, but he hasn’t recovered from the effects of COVID and being in a coma for three weeks,” said Rose, adding that he has serious medical conditions, uses a walker, and has continued to receive treatment while living with family.
On Monday, a parole officer knocked on Rodriguez’ door without warning and told him he had done nothing wrong, but had to go back to prison, she said.
“Putting a person in prison to determine whether he’s too sick to be in prison is cruel and unnecessary,” Rose said “These men are dying. The whole purpose of compassionate release is to afford them to be able to die at home and not in prison. Not one of them are a danger to society.”
Forty-seven inmates have been granted medical parole since the state’s medical parole law was adopted in 2018, including 21 who were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole, state records show. Most of them were released as COVID-19 swept through the state’s prison system. Eleven of them have died since their release, including two from illnesses related to COVID-19, according to the state.
The law allows inmates, regardless of their crime, to petition for their release if diagnosed by a physician as terminally ill, with a life expectancy of fewer than 18 months, or permanently incapacitated to the extent that they do not pose a risk to society. Also known as compassionate release, it gives prisoners, often frail and severely disabled, the chance to spend their dying days with loved ones.
Prisoner advocates have accused the Department of Correction of thwarting the intent of the law by refusing to release more sick and dying inmates who pose no threat.
The law allows the parole board to revoke medical parole for prisoners who violate the conditions of their release, or for those whose medical condition improves to the point where they are no longer considered permanently incapacitated. Four inmates have had their medical parole revoked for violating conditions of their release, according to parole officials.
Wark said the law “requires that a person be returned to custody if they have recovered from the medical condition that made them eligible for medical parole, and the Parole Board carefully reviews each case to make this determination.”
Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, who opposed Stote’s release and supports pending legislation that would bar first-degree murderers from getting medical parole, said Stote’s “due and lawful sentence of life in prison should not have been undermined by more recent legislation aimed at compassionate releases for the terminally ill. This legislation, evidenced by this case and others, has been exploited to abolish justice once done, at the expense of victims and their families.”