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Louisiana Governor’s Inaction Prevents Release of Grandmother Hospitalized with COVID-19

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards had yet to act on a July 2019 recommendation by the state Board of Pardons and Parole to grant Gloria Williams’ request for commutation.

Williams is Louisiana’s longest incarcerated prisoner, the last of the three people sent to prison for a robbery committed in 1971. As PLN went to press, she was transferred from Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge where she was in intensive care battling coronavirus to the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women at Hunt.

In 1971, Williams, then 25, along with a 16-year-old girl and an adult man named Philip Harris, entered a grocery store run by Budge Cutrera and his wife in Opelousas. They were armed with a toy gun and intended to rob the place. Cutrera fought back and the teen fatally shot him with a gun Cutrera kept hidden behind the counter. Since then, the woman who shot Cutrera died in prison, Harris was granted commutation in 1987, and Williams at 74 is still serving her sentence.

Williams became involved in prison drama club, Toastmasters, spiritual programs and various self-help programs. She also has counseled many other prisoners into leading more productive, crime-free lives, including Conseula Gaines, who later formed Voice of the Experienced in 2016 to advocate for the right to vote for the formerly incarcerated.

Williams was moved to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center after the women’s prison where she was being held flooded in 2016. The Center houses local jail and prison females who have tested positive for COVID-19. “Mama Glo, (Williams’ nickname), was an older person, elderly at risk, and from what we can tell, no special provisions or efforts to keep her more isolated or provide her with extra care or consideration (were provided),” said Mercedes Montagnes of the Promise of Justice Initiative, who represents Williams.

Williams began having trouble breathing and was taken to the hospital April 19, where she was placed on a respirator. Since she was still under the care of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the hospital could not release any information about her condition to her family.

Williams’ daughter, Dean Marie Robertson-Guidry, was devastated by the diagnosis. “We were at the last step, this was the final step,” she said.