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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f770410000PublicSource is an independent, nonprofit news group that focuses on original investigative reporting about critical issues facing Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. It was launched to undertake in-depth reporting in the public interest.PublicSource is a content partner of 90.5 WESA.More about PublicSource here.

Prison Release Rarely An Option For Dying State Inmates

Photo courtesy of Peggy Garrity
Via PublicSource
Peggy Garrity kisses her brother Leon Jesse James, known to the family as Jesse, after his release from Graterford prison. He died from pancreatic cancer in July 2014.

Leon Jesse James was supposed to die in prison.

As a convicted murderer, Pennsylvania gave him no possibility of parole, meaning he’d spend nearly his entire adult life incarcerated for a 1971 fatal shooting in Philadelphia.

Barely 18 at the time, he was angry and immature. Over four decades, his family watched him grow up and then grow old in prisons across Pennsylvania. The anger faded, but its consequences remained, leaving little hope that he’d ever return home.

Strangely, that changed when he could no longer walk.

“He couldn’t even tie his own shoes,” said his sister Anna Garrity, describing his rapid deterioration last year from pancreatic cancer.

Cancer meant his mandatory life term was nearly over.

But losing his mobility made him a potential candidate to live his final days outside prison, and, with a judge’s blessing, he became one of only nine inmates since 2010 to be granted a compassionate release from the Pennsylvania state prison system.

Read more of this report at the website of our partner PublicSource.