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.