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Ga. inmate dies without seeing family because of COVID-19, state delay

Shauntrice Murry during a visit with loved ones before her cancer diagnosis.
Shauntrice Murry during a visit with loved ones before her cancer diagnosis.

Shauntrice Murry died waiting for a final ruling from the state of Georgia on whether she could see loved ones one last time.

Murry, who was serving life in prison and suffering from vaginal cancer, couldn't have visitors because prison officials canceled all visitation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles tentatively granted her a medical reprieve to be released, but the board said state law required it to wait 90 days to make a final decision on whether to allow her to go home.

Murry, 45, died on June 12 — one week before the 90 days would have been up.

Her case had helped spotlight the plight prisoners have faced amid the pandemic: the fearful reality of living in confined spaces where a highly contagious disease could easily spread, and the ache of longing to see loved ones who can no longer visit.

Murry’s case became more dramatic after her doctor halted chemotherapy treatments in March, saying her death was imminent.

Murry, who maintained her innocence despite having pleaded guilty to murder in a house fire that killed two Macon children, sat up nights in a hospital bed in the infirmary at Arrendale State Prison, saying Jesus' name.

“Death is death,” Murry said in a telephone interview in March. “But I would be more comfortable (at home), and I’d be at peace. Here, I’d be alone and scared.”

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Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke sent the parole board a letter, saying his office was opposed to the early release, as were relatives of the victims, boys who were 2 and 4. “Tydarious and Hezekiah did not get to choose the time and place of their deaths,” Cooke said in the letter. “While we are not without compassion for those who are suffering, it would be an extreme act of mercy to allow Offender Murry to choose hers.”

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After receiving Cooke’s letter, the parole board could have made a final ruling, according to Lester Tate, former head of Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission. Tate said the 90-day law required the board to provide that time for the DA’s office to weigh in, and the requirement was satisfied once Cooke sent the letter. But the board disagreed and waited.

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“Ms. Murry is loved deeply by women who were incarcerated with her,” read a statement by the Southern Center for Human Rights, which lobbied for Murry’s release. “Women in and outside of Lee Arrendale State Prison … countered the State’s narrative that she deserved to die alone in a prison infirmary.”