Hoping to die free

Sunday, July 15, 2007
Brian Kinder is on death row at Potosi Correctional Center, where he has served 15 years since he was convicted of raping and murdering a Crystal city, Mo., woman. He is undergoing treatment for throat cancer and has filed for medical parole. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

POTOSI, Mo. -- In 1992, Brian Kinder was sent to death row because a court ruled he should die for the rape and murder of a Crystal City, Mo., woman.

Fifteen years later, Kinder says doctors have recommended that he should die a free man because of an ongoing struggle with throat cancer. In early July, Kinder requested a medical parole.

Though Kinder is the first death row inmate prison officials can recall ever making a request for medical parole, if it is granted he will follow in the footsteps of a handful of convicted murderers granted parole for medical reasons.

"Now that I'm dying they want to bring me to this," he said, using a mechanical larynx in a sterile visitation room at Potosi Correctional Center.

Kinder switched to writing his answers to interview questions. He wrote that the parole request had been prompted by his doctors' evaluation after the surgery that removed his voice box a year ago.

Kinder's hands shook as he wrote about a typical day in the prison infirmary.

"I can't breathe. I don't want to eat. Hospice workers stop by constantly to visit. They have me on Tylenol," he wrote.

If his request for medical parole is granted, he will have no family support. He will be released into the care of a medical facility. Kinder has a brother, but his sibling is unwilling to take responsibility for Kinder because of the financial burden of the medical bills and living expenses that have been paid by the state up to this point. For 17 years, Kinder has maintained his innocence and says his brother supports that claim.

"He don't think it's right to send me home so he can watch me die," Kinder wrote.

Fred Duchardt Jr., Kinder's attorney, said his client's condition has gotten progressively worse since the surgery. He does not represent Kinder in the parole request and did not know whether doctors considered the illness terminal.

The prison denied a Southeast Missourian request to speak to Kinder's doctors.

In order to be granted medical parole in Missouri, an inmate must demonstrate he or she has a terminal illness in which death is anticipated within six months, that long-term nursing care is required or that confinement will greatly endanger the inmate's life.

The parole board receives about 12 requests for medical parole each month, said Brian Hauswirth, chief public information officer for the Missouri Department of Corrections. Most are turned down.

In 2006, 19 medical paroles were granted, according to Hauswirth. Twenty medical paroles were granted in 2005, and 18 in 2004.

Each year, the parole board conducts hearings on 8,000 to 9,000 requests for all reasons, not just medical.

Although they are handed out sparingly, medical paroles are given despite the severity of the crime, Hauswirth said. However, the crime is a consideration taken into account by the board, he said.

In October 2005, Harold Burton of Jackson County, Mo., who had been serving life without parole on a first-degree murder conviction, was granted medical parole. Burton died a year later, having served nine years of his sentence.

Danny Hahn of Greene County, Mo., another convicted killer, had been serving a life sentence when he was granted medical parole in 2005. He died less than a month after leaving prison.

Two convicted murderers, Dolores Miller and Shirley Little, are still alive after having been paroled for medical reasons. Miller, of Franklin County, who had been convicted on capital murder charges but sentenced to life without parole, was released on parole in April 2004. Little, of St. Louis County, was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder when she was paroled in the summer of 2005.

Convicted serial killer Faye Copeland of Kansas City was on death row for a short time, but a judge had reduced her sentence to life in prison by the time she was released to a nursing home in 2002. She died in 2003.

Another convicted murderer received medical parole in 2006, but he died before he could be released.

Of the 19 inmates who received medical parole last year, nine of them had been found guilty of class C felonies, which carry a sentence of seven years for those not considered persistent and dangerous offenders.

Hauswirth pointed out that no convicted rapists have received medical parole before. Frank Moody, who had been convicted on charges of statutory sodomy, was paroled in 2006 and died one month after his release.

"Basically, the only way you're given medical parole, you're going to be so weak you aren't going to be able to harm anyone," Hauswirth said.

Someone who receives medical parole is subject to the same guidelines that govern every inmate released on probation. Parolees must request permission from a parole officer before leaving the state or changing their address. They are forbidden from owning or possessing weapons, and they are barred from using drugs unless they obtain a prescription. They are still supervised by the court through their probation officer, and they must devise a "release plan" for how that supervision will be arranged.

Though nothing in the 21-page statute governing parole excludes an inmate sentenced to death from medical parole eligibility, Hauswirth said that just because Kinder has applied for medical parole doesn't mean he's going to get it.

The board is reviewing Kinder's medical information, talking to his doctors and considering the severity of his crime. They also intend to hear from Donielle Williams, the 27-year-old daughter of the victim. Though the chief medical examiner for the parole board will make the ruling on whether Kinder's illness meets the criteria for medical parole, Hauswirth said the board will have "ultimate discretion."

"Our top priority is public safety," Hauswirth said.

Kinder said he intends to tell the parole he "would like to go home."

"I've done my time," Kinder said.


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