Michigan prisoner awaiting release dies from COVID-19

DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan prisoner who declined to be paroled earlier this year after decades behind bars has died from COVID-19 complications, officials said.

William Garrison is one of 17 Michigan prisoners who have died from COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, the Corrections Department said.

Garrison, 60, could have left prison on parole weeks ago. But he decided to wait until September, when he would be eligible for a complete release without the rigors of parole supervision, the Detroit Free Press reported Saturday.

After nearly 44 years in prison, “he was trying to get free,” said sister Yolanda Peterson.

Garrison, however, changed his stance during the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 500 inmates in Michigan prisons. The parole board approved his application in March. Garrison died Monday while waiting to see if prosecutors would challenge it, a standard step that can take weeks.

He was taken to a hospital that same day after another prisoner at Macomb Correctional Facility found him gasping for air, spokesman Chris Gautz said. He said Garrison hadn’t complained to staff about his health.

It was “unfortunate all the way around,” said Gautz, noting that Garrison could have been out weeks ago.

Garrison was sentenced to life in prison for killing a man during a 1976 robbery when Garrison was 16 years old. His sentence was reduced to 40 years in January as a result of U.S. Supreme Court decisions making juvenile lifers eligible for release.

“He was a zealous advocate for himself and for other incarcerated persons. He often helped other individuals with their legal matters,” said attorney Becky Hahn, who helped Garrison get the reduced sentence.