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Florida Parole Commission releases dying inmate

1-6-2011 Florida:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A 27-year-old prison inmate born with AIDS in Haiti and now dying of cancer will be released to a hospice after supporters, including three state lawmakers, spoke on her behalf Wednesday to the Florida Parole Commission.

The panel voted 2-1 to approve a medical release for Betsie Gallardo with conditions that amount to house arrest. Last week, she was moved from prison to a secure area of the Kendall Regional Medical Center where family visits are limited to two hours a day.

"A miracle has happened," said Jessica Bussert, one of Gallardo's adoptive parents. "I look forward to finally having her out of shackles."

Gallardo has served slightly more than a year of a five-year sentence, the maximum possible, for biting a Collier County sheriff's deputy and kicking another while intoxicated. It happened after her 2008 arrest in Naples on a child neglect charge that later was dropped.

Four months into her sentence, Gallardo was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer. It has since spread to her liver, lungs and ovaries. She's not expected to live more than 30 days, said HIV-AIDS activist Michael Emanuel Rajner of Fort Lauderdale.

Joshua and Sharon Bussert of Lafayette, Ind., adopted Gallardo in 1993. Joshua, a firefighter and emergency medical technician, changed his name to Jessica after having a sex change operation.

The commission majority also agreed to let Gallardo return to Indiana under the same conditions if that state agrees to accept her.

She may not last long enough for that process to be completed, though, so her supporters planned to ask Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to commute her sentence so Indiana's approval wouldn't be needed.

Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, said she spoke to Scott about Gallardo at his inaugural ball Tuesday night. There was no immediate comment from the governor's office Wednesday.

Campbell and Reps. Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, urged commissioners to unconditionally release Gallardo but the panel lacks that authority.

Campbell, a registered nurse, told the panel she recently visited Gallardo who said "I know by God's grace I will be released and my parents will see me dying."

Florida is among more than half of the states that allow sick and dying inmates to be released for humanitarian reasons and to reduce prison medical expenses. Florida's program has been in effect since 1992.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, Florida parole commissioners, though, released only nine of 19 inmates recommended by the Department of Corrections. They freed just 42 of 75 inmates who received recommendations over the past three years.

In October, the commission refused to free Gallardo but reconsidered.

Commission Chairwoman Tena Pate and Commissioner Cassandra Jenkins voted for her release. Pate said she changed her mind because Gallardo's deteriorated condition means she's no longer a public safety threat. Jenkins is a new member and Gallardo's case was her first vote. Commissioner Monica David dissented.

Sheriff's Cpl. Tracy Brown, who was bitten by Gallardo, opposed her release in a letter read to the commission. Brown underwent painful AIDS prevention treatments, missing four weeks of work. So far, she has tested negative.

"Receiving the appropriate treatment was literally a matter of life and death," wrote Brown, who is a mother, adding and that her family also would suffer if she gets AIDS.

Brown wrote that Gallardo was sentenced not just for spitting at and biting her but for trying to pass on "the same deadly illness, the same death sentence" that the inmate has.

"Ms. Gallardo carried a concealed weapon, understood its powerful effect and used it," Brown wrote.

Bussert later said as a first responder herself she identified with Brown and was sincerely sorry for the pain her daughter has caused. But she added, "there's nothing I can do to take that away just like there's nothing I can do to take away my daughter's cancer."

"Quite frankly, my daughter should have received a harsh punishment," Bussert said. "The question is should it have been a life sentence?"

Rajner, who also has AIDS, said he, too, had empathy for Brown but disagreed with her statement because the disease cannot be passed on through saliva.

"It is not a deadly weapon," Rajner said, noting that advancements have been made in AIDS treatment. "It is now considered a chronic disease."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says HIV rarely is transmitted by saliva even if mixed with infected blood. Saliva, instead, inhibits HIV infection and levels of the virus are low in the saliva of infected people.

The commission did not have a telephone number for Brown and the sheriff's office said she was off duty and could not be contacted. ..Source.. by BILL KACZOR

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