No quick release for dying GA inmate who can’t see family amid pandemic

State Board of Pardons and Paroles refuses to commute lifetime sentence
Shauntrice Murry during a visit with loved ones before her cancer diagnosis.

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

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

A dying Georgia inmate has been denied a sentence commutation that would have allowed her release so she could be with family at the end.

Relatives can’t visit Shauntrice Murry, who has vaginal cancer and is no longer receiving chemo treatment, because the state prison system has halted all visitation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which denied the commutation, has tentatively granted Murry's request for early release, but says it can't make a final decision for another month and a half.

Murry might not have that long to live, friends and her attorneys at the Southern Center for Human Rights fear.

Murry, who is serving life for involvement in a house fire that killed two Macon children, has recently been transferred from Arrendale State Prison to Augusta State Medical Prison, a sign that her condition could be worsening. Friend Frieda Davis said no loved ones or attorneys have heard from Murry since last Thursday and all are growing concerned.

Lester Tate, former head of Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the parole board is incorrect to say it must wait to rule.

The board’s position is that state law doesn’t allow it to make a final decision until it has given the prosecution 90 days to respond to Murry’s request for release.

Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke sent the board a letter last week, saying his office and the victims’ family were both opposed to Murry’s request. But a spokesman for the parole board said the law requires the board to still wait for the 90-day period to elapse before making a final decision.

Tate said the board does not need to wait at all because the DA has given his opinion. “It’s ripe for a ruling,” Tate said. If the board has any doubt, Tate added, it can ask the DA if he has anything else to add.

» RELATED: Internal email details 'desperate need' for sanitizer at federal pen

» MORE: Georgia to release some inmates due to COVID-19

» ALSO: Coronavirus is spreading in Georgia prisons

Murry was sentenced to life in 2010 for involvement in a Macon house fire that killed Hezekiah Harris, 2, and Tydarious Harris, 4. Murry admits putting gas in a drink bottle before the fire but claims it was a favor for her then-boyfriend and that she had no idea why he requested it. She maintains she did not set the fire. After hearing of the boys’ deaths, Murry pleaded guilty to spare the family a trial, and herself a death sentence, her defense attorney said at the time.

The DA argued in the letter to the board that Murry did start the fire and that her failure to show remorse hurt the victims’ family.

“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.”

Murry maintained her innocence in a phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in March. She also said she was scared, in pain and too weak to walk from her bed to the bathroom without the help of fellow inmates. She said she longed for family and friends to be near.

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

About the Author