- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) Mikal Alyasha's case illustrates why Virginia makes it difficult for terminally ill inmates to win early release so they don't have to die in prison.
Alyasha, a prostate cancer patient who was given less than three months to live, improved so much with chemotherapy and radiation treatment after his February 2001 release that he started breaking the law again.
The habitual traffic offender was caught in August driving 83 mph in a 45-mph zone in Fauquier County, and before he could be sentenced, he was involved last month in a hit-and-run crash in Fairfax County. The Virginia Parole Board returned him to the Deerfield Correctional Center in Capron.
"I tried my best not to break the law," he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in a telephone interview.
Medical clemencies like the one granted Alyasha by then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III are rarely approved. From 1995 through 2000, only 11 inmates won medical clemencies. An additional 372 died of natural causes in prison.
Clemency applications are considered by a committee of Virginia Department of Corrections officials, who among other things make sure that at least two physicians believe the inmate has less than three months to live.
The committee then makes its recommendation. The governor has the final say. Gov. Mark R. Warner has received five applications for medical clemency since taking office in January. He approved one and denied two. One inmate died and another was released on parole before a decision could be made on their applications.
Nathaniel Duncan, who has melanoma, said he does not understand why his application was denied.
Three months ago, he was given three to six months to live, the 34-year-old Martinsville native said.
"I wrote the governor. Told him I wouldn't do nothing else wrong. I just want to spend the rest of my life with my family, with my mom and my family," said Duncan, a parole violator convicted of felony possession of cocaine and misdemeanor drug charges.
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, also denied the application of Randall Bowman, who died of hepatitis C while in custody on May 12. Bowman was a habitual offender because of repeated convictions for drunken driving.
His mother, Joyce Bowman of Danville, said her son "was virtually bedridden" but was denied clemency because Mr. Warner feared he might drive again.
"The grim reality is that we don't really know how long an inmate will live, even with guidance from two doctors," said Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls.
"So given the stark choice between public safety and the end of life for a terminally ill inmate, the governor is going to err on the side of public safety."
She said each case is unique and will be decided on its merits.

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