Saturday, October 31, 2020

Former District Attorney Walter Reed convicted for corruption seek early release amid coronavirus fears

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Walter Reed has served less than a year of his four-year federal prison sentence on corruption charges, but the 73-year-old former district attorney from the north shore is asking to be let out early, arguing that he has underlying health issues that put him at high risk for coronavirus.

Reed’s attorney, Richard Simmons, filed a motion Thursday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans for compassionate release under the 2018 First Step Act, which aims to reduce federal prison population.

The petition also cites provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that authorizes U.S. Attorney General William Barr to consider home incarceration based on emergency conditions and two memos that Barr has issued prioritizing home confinement as an appropriate response for some at-risk inmates.

Reed, who was convicted in 2016 on 18 fraud and corruption counts, waged a long post-conviction appellate battle and was allowed by U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon to remain free on appeal until last year when he ordered Reed to report to the minimum-security federal prison in Morgantown, West Virginia. He did so, according to the filing, on May 23 last year.

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But now Reed is asking Fallon to let him go early, after being turned down for early release by the warden of his prison. Under the terms of the First Step Act, a district court now has the discretion to make such a change in sentencing.

A hearing before Fallon has been set for June 11.

The motion outlines a myriad of health problems that Reed, who served as the tough-on-crime district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes for 30 years, now faces. They include metastatic prostate cancer, which delayed his reporting to prison by a month and a half last year.

Reed also has coronary artery disease, the motion says, and was taken to a hospital last month with pain in this chest and jaw. He underwent surgery to place to stents in blocked arteries, and while there, he was diagnosed with extreme diabetes, the motion said.

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He uses a wheelchair now because of injuries suffered in a car accident months before his prison term began, the motion said, and his doctors have determined that he will be permanently incontinent following surgery he had to remove his prostate.

Those conditions alone, as well as his age, would qualify him for compassionate release, according to the motion But they also “have taken a toll on his immune system, making him at high risk for the coronavirus disease,” the motion adds.

The elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are the most vulnerable to coronavirus, the motions argue, and Reed is therefore at high risk. Moreover, social distancing guidelines are “a very difficult directive to follow in a prison environment,” the motion says.

Reed also qualifies for release to home incarceration under a what’s called the Second Chance Act because he doesn’t have a life sentence and was not convicted of violent crimes, the motion says.

Reed has been a model prisoner, who was twice recognized by fellow inmates as “most inspirational,” the filing says.

“Reed has been out of the public office for five years. Reed cannot impose any more harm,” the filing says, arguing that early release is consistent with the intent of Congress when it passed the First Step Act.

Reed has completed programs, including one on alcohol abuse, that have reduced his sentence to three years, and the Bureau of Prisons now lists an October 2021 release date for him.

But he is asking to serve the remainder of his term at his home in Covington. St. Tammany, unlike neighbouring parishes, is not a hot spot for coronavirus, according to the motion, and he faces no increased risk of infection by being relocated.

According to the West Virginia Health and Human Services Bureau for Public Health, that state has 536 confirmed cases of coronavirus and has had five deaths. Monongalia County, where the prison is located, has reported 76 cases.

St. Tammany Parish, meanwhile, has more than 10 times as many cases, with 825 reported by the state as of Friday and 27 deaths.

The motion argues that Reed does not face a higher risk at home “in comparison to the dangers of contracting the disease in a prison environment.”

“While in the best of times, Walter Reed would be eligible…these are the worst of times as the country is suffering from the coronavirus epidemic,” the motion concludes.

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