Don Davis

On Starving In Prison, Or, Who Gets Pardons In Florida?

Filed By Don Davis | December 29, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Betsie Gallardo, cancer treatment, Charlie Crist, Florida, medical, parole commission

If you were with us on Christmas week you heard the story of Betsie Gallardo, who, unless something changes quickly, is going to be intentionally starved to death in a Florida prison after being convicted of spitting on a cop. In fairness, the State did not decide simply to starve her; instead, the Department of Corrections (DOC) first chose to withhold any further treatment for her inoperable cancer...and then they decided to starve her to death.

Betsie Gallardo (Pic via Jessica Bussert)

Her adopted mother is trying to get her released on humanitarian grounds; the DOC recommended in October that she be allowed to go home and die, the Florida Parole Commission refused. Governor Charlie Crist chairs the Executive Clemency Board, who could also agree to let her go...and so far, they've also refused to take action.

Funny thing is, the Governor and his Board have been more than willing to step in when other Floridians requested pardons and commutations, even in situations that seemed a lot less dire.

Today, we're going to look at that history--and to be honest, as with many things in the Sunshine State, from the all looks a bit bizarre.

"Forgiveness, particularly at this time of year, is a very worthwhile message for all of us to be reminded of..."

--Florida Governor Charlie Crist, December 9, 2010

So right off the bat, if you're 21 years old and you're having sex with a 15 year-old, you're looking at some trouble if the police find out. In fact, you're going to be regarded as a sex offender in the eyes of the law if you're doing something like that and you get caught.

But as it turns out, in Florida, if you marry the young person in question, you can get a pardon. In fact, it comes up often enough that they're called "Romeo and Juliet" pardons, and the Executive Clemency Board actually handed out a couple of them in 2009 to John Kemp and Virgil McCranie, who were dating 14 and 15 year-olds when they were originally convicted.

Actually, you don't even have to marry the minor in question if you can obtain their consent for the underage sexual encounter and demonstrate a reasonable degree of remorse: that happened to Gregory Allen, who was 40 when he was convicted of having sex with a minor.

Describing the events that led to Allen's conviction, Alex Sink, who was not elected Governor to replace Crist:

"...later expressed frustration with the state's classification of people as sex offenders even though they may have been convicted of having consensual relations."

Suzanne Squires killed her own daughter and seriously injured another woman while driving drunk, and just this month the Board commuted 12 years of her 23-year sentence so that she could return home to her family.

18 year-old Jennifer Martin was driving way too fast, and in the eventual crash she killed one of her passengers, and injured another, although she was sober when she did it; she received the second commutation granted by the Board under Crist's chairmanship when her 16 year sentence for manslaughter by culpable negligence was cut in half in 2009.

The Doors' Jim Morrison, who is not at risk to die in prison, was posthumously pardoned by the Board just this month for an indecent exposure "event" that took place in 1969. Reached for comment, Morrison suggested that these were strange days indeed when he could be pardoned in death and Betsie Gallardo can't be pardoned in the final days of her life.

Donald Keehn lent a neighbor $7,000. When she couldn't repay the debt, he drove by her house and shot up the place--five times.

He was 88 at the time, she was 66, but instead of starving him to death because of his cancer, congestive heart failure and kidney failure, the Board chose to commute half of his five year sentence in 2009 and set him free.

Remember when I suggested that Florida, to the outside observer, seems a bit bizarre?

Well...consider this:

If you date underage girls in "Chain Gang Charlie's" Florida you can get a pardon or a commutation. In fact, if you do...they even have a special name for it.

If you kill someone drunk driving--or even driving sober--there might be a commutation for you, too.

Did you ever wag your penis onstage 40 years ago, then die, and now you're having trouble finding a job because of your besmirched reputation? Governor Crist wants to help--and the Board has his back.

Have you ever committed a series of drive-by shootings, and then developed a series of serious physical problems that make you seek a commutation so that you can go home and die? Florida will find a way to let you out.

On the other hand, if you spit on a cop, and then you develop inoperable cancer...and your name's Betsie Gallardo...Florida not only won't let you out of prison to go home and die--they'll starve you in prison, just to make your death come a bit faster.

Wanna discuss any of this with the Board? Here's some handy contact information for Crist and the other three members:

Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida
(850) 488-4441

Bill McCollum, Attorney General
(850) 414-3300
Click here to e-mail Mr. McCollum

Charles Bronson, Commissioner Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
(850) 488-3022

Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer Florida Department of Financial Services
(850) 413-3100

I don't know how many of you remember the show "Daria", but all of this reminds me of an episode of "Sick Sad World"--except that in this case the application of outside pressure is having an effect on the DOC...and that means we need to keep the pressure coming.

If we drag them to it, kicking and screaming, I'm sure the State of Florida will be just as compassionate and humane toward Betsie Gallardo as they were to all the other fine folks you read about here today--and with your help we'll be able to write a happier ending to what has been, so far, a rather unhappy story.

Read All of Betsie Gallardo's story at The Bilerico Project:

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Aaaaand what did Betsie do?

She got in a car accident. Due to a childhood of sexual abuse by a police officer in a Haitian slum, when the paramedics and police arrived she had a traumatic flashback and resisted arrest. She spit on a cop, and because she is HIV-positive, the state of Florida charged her with assaulting a cop with a deadly weapon (even though you can't get HIV through saliva alone).

you know, i posted this story on numerous other sites, as i am wont to do, and there were a couple of questions that were similar to valeena's.

having thought about it for a day or so, it occurs to be that the question is really sort of irrelevant.

there's a larger moral issue: i can't think of any circumstances where starving someone to death is appropriate--unless it's the intent of the patient or their chosen guardian or a religious choice...and i don't think the crime you may have committed changes that moral calculation in any way.

so i'm not sure exactly where the question is going, but if you're asking about what she did to wind up in jail, the florida doc records report that she was convicted of assault on a law enforcement officer or ems and "resisting with violence".

to me, those seems to be less serious crimes than manslaughter or multiple drive-bys or dating 15 year-olds when you're 40, suggesting that if they can be pardoned, she can be, too.

Jessica Bussert | December 30, 2010 10:35 AM

I'm Betsie's mother, Jessica, and as you can imagine, I have every reason to be mad as hell with a lot of the lawmakers down here in Florida. The stories listed above are perfect examples of how the law is far from consistent in the Sunshine State. This all said, I want to make sure that we don't "throw the baby out with the bath water", so to speak, and criticize those who are actively and aggressively fighting on my daughter's behalf. The fact of the matter is that it was Fredrick B. Dunphy, an outgoing member of the parole commission who advocated for Betsie's case to be heard once again. Various others like lawmakers Daphne Campbell, Christopher Smith, and Hazelle Rogers, just to name a few, have personally called the governor and written numerous appeals for my daughter.

As of the other day Betsie has finally started IV nutritional therapy and is already responding wonderfully. Her case is scheduled to be heard by the parole commission mid next week. I'd like to advocate that we all just take a deep breath and offer up a prayer for positive results. There is no need to toss gas on this fire quite yet...

Thanks to ALL of you for your love, compassion, and concern,
Jessica Bussert

right off the bat, congratulations to you and betsie for the progress that's been made so far--and as you aptly note, we do want to be moderate in how the subject is approached.

but i gotta tell ya, i live with a nurse, and when we discussed exactly what this sort of death is like...well, words like inhuman and disgusting and immoral lept to mind, and i actually thought i was expressing things in a more restrained way than could have been justified by the circumstances.

i was going to do a follow-up that compared the reaction of state government to betsie's situation to the reaction to terry schaivo's similar "fact set", but you rightly point out that there are people in florida government who deserve credit, so i will address that subject next; if there's anyone else you'd like me to mention, please let me know and i'll be happy to do so.

Regan DuCasse | December 30, 2010 6:14 PM

I hope I articulate this properly. It's ALWAYS going to be considered assault when you spit on someone. If you do it at a police officer, whether or not you have HIV, it's not going to go well for you.

Now, if I'm getting this right, Betsie had an emotional flashback that prompted the spitting? If she were THAT afraid of the police or paramedics, I would think that doing something as PROVOCATIVE as spitting would contradict that assertion.
They were they to render aid, essentially because she WAS in a car accident. Who else did she think would come to help?
I agree that her sentencing was ridiculously harsh, and this poor girl's history shows she's had a world of hurt.
I'm trying to get to the facts, and it seems that her spitting on anyone for that reason, sorta doesn't pass the smell test.

But neither does such harsh sentencing when, as pointed out, you can't get HIV from spit. The help she needed was long before this even happened for her to react that way. Did she ever respond to the police any other time in a similar way in Florida, when their presence was innocuous?

I suppose we can never tell how someone's fragile mental state will manifest, and tragically.
Guess this is one of them.

i think the question of whether the seriousness of her offense disqualifies her from a commutation of her sentence is answered by the fact that others with far more serious offenses have already been granted relief by crist; the two women who killed others in accidents and the "serial drive-by guy" offer three quick examples of what i mean.

what seems more important now is the moral question of whether you can starve anyone to death, for any reason, unless it's their choice, and also the question of whether it's appropriate to release persons who are near death out of doc custody.

we now know (and we'll be talking about this next) that starvation wasn't an acceptable choice; now the question is whether the state and society benefit from her further incarceration.

i'm not sure that society gains a great deal from enforcing her death in prison--and there is an economic benefit to the state that should not be ignored, either...and with all that in mind, i hope the state now sees fit to let her go home.

Don, I think the concept we're looking for here, is consistency in sentencing.

It flat-out didn't exist in this case.

And to add insult to injury, the current status of Betsie screams for mercy. Yet it is slow due to the "process."

Too often, government is a sloppy, inconsistent thing. When it result sin a road being delayed, or another project lavishly over-spent, that's one thing. When it result sin overly-harsh sentencing, that's another.

When it's compounded with lack of long-term mercy, it's savage.

Floridians ought to demand justice when this sad, sad story ends. Heads need to roll.

i want to offer a few cautionary words about sentencing reform, based on the experience we've had in washington state.

there was academic evidence to support the assertion that there was a racial component to the sentencing disparities that were observed in the system, and the reform law passed by initiative.

we have have "determinate sentencing" for a couple of decades now, which, for the most part, requires judges to sentence within defined "ranges" that shift based on the severity of the crime, any "aggravating circumstances", and prior criminal history.

what we've discovered is that we now may have problems with "charging disparity" and "plea bargaining disparity", meaning that people in two similar situations might face charges for two different crimes (or for that matter, one might be charged while the other is not charged at all)--and as you can imagine, this has people concerned that prosecutors are again abusing their discretion.

it's also harder to track the decision process for a researcher, as there are lots more cases that come to the prosecutor's office than there are cases where a sentence is imposed, and many more variables to track as well (example: judges don't participate in the plea bargaining process, except to agree to accept the deal at the end).

so the cautionary words are that you can fix one portion of the problem, but that's not the whole story, and that after sentencing reform is accomplished you'll still have to figure out how to address other places in the criminal justice "process" where unequal decisions that are based on class membership might affect outcomes.