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Coronavirus Kills Michigan Prisoner Days Before His Release After Serving 44 Years

William Garrison was 16 years old when he was arrested and eventually convicted of first-degree murder. He would spend the next 44 years of his life behind bars.

On April 13, 2020, Garrison’s cellmate called for help after Garrison was gasping for air. Macomb Correctional Facility staff had him transferred to the hospital where he died.

Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, stated that a post-mortem autopsy confirmed Garrison was infected with COVID-19.

Garrison was originally sentenced to life in prison. In 2012, the Supreme Court issued a decision striking down mandatory life sentences for juveniles. Later, in 2016, that law was ruled to be retroactive, paving the way for Garrison to be resentenced.

Due to the resentencing, Garrison was eligible for parole in February but rejected it. He opted to serve seven more months, which would eliminate parole.

Garrison changed his mind when COVID-19 hit the prison system. Prison officials issued Garrison immediate parole, but he was not released due to a Michigan law.

The law states prisons must notify prosecutors and any registered victims in order to release prisoners. The law requires prison officials to wait 28 days before releasing prisoners, allowing prosecutors time to appeal if they so choose.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Michigan prison staff had been requesting a waiver on the 28-day waiting period. The Wayne County Prosecutors Office did not respond to the letter concerning Garrison, nor hundreds of others.

Instead, Garrison would never leave prison a free man. His sister, Yolanda Peterson, said, “My brother shouldn’t have died in there like that.”

Over 15 prisoners had died in Michigan prisons due to COVID-19, with hundreds testing positive. The Macomb prison where Garrison was housed had one of the highest numbers of those infected in the State of Michigan.