Thousands of local, state and federal inmates are pushing to get out from behind bars, calling the jails and prisons “petri dishes” for the coronavirus.
Everyone from killers, drug traffickers and gang members to mobsters, fraudsters and accused rapists are making a bid to get out of the clink.
They are aided by defense lawyers suing for their release, usually citing underlying health issues that make them at risk of catching the deadly disease in crowded conditions.
One inmate at the state prison in Sing Sing died and at least eight federal prisoners in different facilities have fallen victim to the virus, prompting US Attorney General William Barr to push officials to increase the use of home confinement.
R. Kelly has asked to be released from prison due to the coronavirus pandemic. AP
Defense attorneys argue coronavirus could be a death sentence for inmates like 81-year-old Rosie Baker, who has kidney disease and diabetes and has been incarcerated for nearly 23 years. Baker and her son Vance were convicted in the June 1997 murder-for-hire of her lover, Dr. Daniel Hodge, as the mother and son’s $2 million Medicaid fraud scheme was unraveling in Brooklyn.
Also seeking release is accused killer Ramzidden Trowell, 42, an HIV-positive asthmatic who is being held at Rikers Island on charges he fatally stabbed a straphanger in the Bronx who opened a subway gate for him.
A judge approved 75-year-old businessman Morris Zukerman’s bid to serve out his tax evasion sentence at home. Zukerman, convicted of dodging $45 million in taxes over 15 years, was sentenced in 2017 to nearly six years in prison.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the release of 1,100 parole violators last week, while the city has let 300 inmates out of Rikers and put them up in hotels. Lawyers are seeking the release of at least another 530 from federal facilities, and public defenders are seeking to get approximately 400 more out. While the city’s district attorneys have consented to the release of some inmates — 272 in Manhattan; about 200 in Brooklyn; 80 in Queens and 63 in the Bronx — prosecutors aren’t giving a thumbs up to every prisoner who is seeking home confinement or outright freedom.
Here’s a sample of inmates asking for leniency in the face of the pandemic:
Dean SkelosErik Thomas
The former state Senate Majority Leader, 72, is serving four years in federal lockup in upstate Otisville on public corruption charges for using his powerful office to get no-show jobs for his son. Prosecutors protested his request to be released, noting he has no safe place to go since he lives in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic.
Monzer Al KassarAP
Once known as “the Proud Peacock,” the flamboyant Syrian-born arms dealer made his money selling weapons and military equipment to terrorists, fueling fighting in place like Iraq, Iran, Africa, Eastern Europe, Central America and elsewhere. He was finally nabbed in 2007 and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Now, after 13 years inside, the 74-year-old wants a compassionate release, claiming he suffers from spinal stenosis, diabetes, hypertension and other ailments. He’s not due to be out until 2033.
Frantz PetionEllis Kaplan
An EMT who allegedly raped a 10-year-old Queens girl in her bedroom in 2018, Petion, 26, is being held at Rikers Island on $400,000 bail. Since the asthmatic man’s bid for release was denied by a state judge Tuesday, his lawyer has asked for reconsideration, claiming in court papers Petion has been housed with at least two infected inmates.
A Brooklyn middle-school teacher behind bars on charges he scoured Facebook for vulnerable kids, including one as young as 10, then solicited them for sexually explicit snaps and videos, claims the pandemic puts him in danger. Deutsch, 36, is pre-diabetic and has repeatedly sought release to his parents’ custody in Florida while awaiting trial. But prosecutors say new evidence shows Deutsch hid the extent of his alleged behavior, and argue the elderly couple cannot adequately monitor him.
Juan Angel Napout
Juan Angel NapoutR. Umar Abbasi
The Paraguayan FIFA official was sentenced to nine years in the clink on federal racketeering charges in 2018 as part of a sprawling international soccer bribery scandal. The 61-year-old, who has served more than two years, has been “a model prisoner,” his lawyers claim, and “now has a real fear of dying in prison without seeing his family again.” He’s seeking home confinement for six months while the virus rages, before serving out the remainder of his sentence at federal lock up in Miami, where he’s been teaching Spanish, history and geography classes to other inmates.
Michael “Baldy Mike” Spinelli
In 1992, the reputed Lucchese family mobster was the getaway driver for a failed assassination attempt on a Brooklyn mom of three in her driveway. The botched hit was supposed to be a message to the woman’s brother — Lucchese soldier Peter “Fat Pete” Chiodo, a government witness. Convicted in 1998, Spinelli was sentenced to nearly 25 years. The 66-year-old gangster isn’t supposed to get out until 2029, but his lawyers insist he is now a yoga teacher with a “calm, positive influence on those around him,” and should be allowed to finish his sentence at home instead of in the coronavirus-infected Metropolitan Correctional Center.