Dying Inmate Denied Request to Go Home, Governor Could Intervene

November 14, 2013

This past July, 44-year-old Donna Kidd was told by her doctors at the University of Virginia Medical Center that she had only months to live. An inmate at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, Kidd is fighting terminal illness. Since her deadly prognosis, Kidd's family has been trying to bring her home to live her last days surrounded by her children, siblings and mother, rather than behind bars.

"It's heartbreaking to see my mom laying there and not be able to do anything about it," said Kidd's youngest daughter, 16-year-old Melissa Gravely.

In August, the family filed a medical clemency to have her released early. On November 5th, a letter was sent from the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office, denying that request.

"A lot of heartbreak," described Kidd's sister, Barbara Kingery of receiving the news. "Seeing her in the condition she is in and not being able to do anything, and just having them tell us no, there's nothing we can do."

Kidd has less than one year to serve on a 12-year sentence for writing bad checks and larceny. She suffers from Hepatitis C and Cirrhosis of the liver. In July, her doctors at UVa recommended she be released early, on "humanitarian grounds". The physicians with the Virginia Department of Corrections disagreed, saying Kidd was not sick enough to be eligible for clemency.

However, Kidd has spent the last two weeks in the hospital. "She is not doing good at all," Kingery said of her sister's condition. "Her kidneys are failing."

The process for filing a medical clemency request varies by state. In Virginia, the petitioner must get permission from the doctor treating the inmate and the physicians with the Department of Corrections. Only then can Governor Bob McDonnell consider granting an early release.

"It's a request, the Governor, in his mercy, allow the prisoner, to shorten his or her sentence, and allow the prisoner to return home, basically to die," said Stephen Northup, an attorney in Richmond who has successfully argued clemency cases.

"It happens very rarely," Northup said.

In fact, over the past 20 years, only 31 inmates have been granted medical clemency. Of those cases, only four involved female prisoners. Comparatively, North Carolina has granted medical parole to more than 70 inmates in the past four years. In Oklahoma, 135 prisoners have given medical clemency since 2000.

Governor McDonnell's office released the following statement regarding Kidd's case; "Ms. Kidd's petition is progressing through the normal review process."

Kidd herself wrote a letter to McDonnell asking for forgiveness. Her family has also sent letters to their state representatives. State Senator John Edwards has sent a request to McDonnell to review the case.

"We are just pleading to the governor, the senator, or anybody who is out there to please just help us to get her an early release so she can come home," Kingery said. "She doesn't have that long left on her sentence and we just want to take her home and make her more comfortable to live out the rest of her days."

Kidd has been in prison for most of her children's lives, and they would like to be able to make up for lost time before it's too late.

"It would be nice to have her home and spend Christmas with her, said Kidd's daughter, Christina Gravely. "It would be the first time ever and it would just be really nice."

Kingery echoes that sentiment. "It would mean the world to have her home, at least for Thanksgiving and Christmas, if she even lives that long. We don't know. She could die tonight."

Kidd's health is deteriorating quickly, and visits to the prison and hospital are limited and sporadic. After their last visit at the UVa Med Center, Kidd's family wondered if it would be the last time they saw her alive.

"I just told her I loved her and told her don't give up." Kingery said she had a message for her little sister. "Keep fighting to live and I'm going to keep fighting to get you out of here and get you home."

The denied medical clemency cannot be appealed, but Kidd's family can apply again.

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