Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In first California medical parole case, inmate rejected

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

CORCORAN, Kings County -- A state board on May 24 denied medical parole to a convicted rapist who has been a quadriplegic since he was attacked in prison 10 years ago, arguing that the inmate's verbal threats in prison to female staffers proves he would still pose a threat to public safety if he were to be released.

Steven Martinez, 42, (pictured) was the first California inmate to be considered for medical parole under a law that took effect this year and is aimed at saving taxpayers the expense of providing medical care and security to incapacitated inmates. Under the law, inmates who are "permanently medically incapacitated with a medical condition" that makes them "unable to perform activities of basic daily living" may be released if they do not pose a threat to public safety.

In announcing the decision after two hours of deliberations, a two-person panel of the State Board of Parole Hearings cited Martinez's lengthy disciplinary record, including threats to nurses and other prison staff members who have cared for him at the Corcoran State Prison's Acute Care Hospital.

Those disciplinary charges were the focus of much of the nearly 2 1/2-hour hearing. Martinez's attorney, Ken Karan, acknowledged that Martinez is "difficult" and "annoying" but argued that any conflicts were largely the result of personality clashes with individual staff members and a fear on Martinez's part that his own safety was at risk. Karan disputed staff members' account of the incidents in several cases.

'Violent person'
Board commissioner John Peck and deputy commissioner Dan Moeller disagreed.

"This panel finds that he is a violent person who can use other people to carry out threats and would be a public safety threat to those attending to him outside prison walls," Peck said.

The commissioner said it was a "tough decision," but noted that female staff members were the target of Martinez's ire in eight of the nine formal disciplinary cases that have been brought against him since 2003.

That is significant, Peck said, "because his commitment offense was a very violent attack and rape of a female."

Martinez was arrested on March 28, 1998, after he hit a woman with his car, punched her in the face, threw her in the backseat of his car and drove her to a secluded area to rape her. The attack was eventually interrupted by a police officer. Martinez is serving a 157-year sentence after he was convicted of multiple felonies in connection with the attack, including forcible rape and forcible oral copulation.

Attacked in prison
In February 2001, Martinez was attacked by two inmates at Centinela State Prison and stabbed in the neck with a knife, severing his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Court documents show that he has no motor power in his arms and legs, can barely move his head, does not have control over his bowel or bladder and has "no chance of regaining any motor skills."

His medical bills now average $625,000 a year; three years ago, he was rejected for compassionate release, which allows a court to "recall" an inmates' sentence if he is terminally ill and expected to die within six months, or medically incapacitated. Medical parole is different, because people released would have conditions imposed and could be sent back to prison if they violate those terms, or if their medical condition improves.

Karan, Martinez's attorney, said that his client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is no more difficult to his caretakers than any paralyzed person who must depend on others for the simplest tasks. He said Martinez's victim supported his earlier appeal for compassionate release, and he disputed the parole board's contention that his client would enlist others to carry out violent acts if he were to be released, noting that his previous offenses were "crimes of passion."

Fits the profile
"There is simply no evidence that Mr. Martinez would do something he's never done in the past," he said. "Who would help him anyway? He's hated by everyone in the world, except his mother, father and me."

Karan also argued that Martinez was exactly the type of person intended for release under the state's medical parole law, which was authored by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and signed last year by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Leno estimates that the measure could save the struggling state up to $200 million in total if all of the medically incapacitated inmates were to be released.

"What we've been doing is spending money and not getting anything for it ... except an insatiable desire by some for vengeance," Karan said. "Vengeance for vengeance sake is something we can no longer afford."

Karan declined to comment after the hearing. Two more medical parole hearings, for two child molesters, are scheduled to take place next month.