Zuckerman Spaeder Secures Compassionate Release for Prisoner Who Faced Multiple Previous Denials of Release

Zuckerman Spaeder Associate Devon Galloway led a pro bono effort that resulted in a federal court granting compassionate release to an elderly inmate who had been previously denied release three times. The court’s decision contains important findings that could impact future compassionate release cases.

At 70-years-old, Randy Heitman had served 22 years of a 30-year drug-related sentence and has stage IV prostate cancer that has metastasized to his spine, hips, and lower ribs. He was first denied compassionate release by the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, then again on appeal by the Bureau of Prisons Regional Office, and finally by the Administrator of National Inmate Appeals.

Everything changed when Zuckerman Spaeder took his case. Mr. Galloway moved for Mr. Heitman’s release before Judge A. Joe Fish of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The appeal filed by Mr. Galloway was met with no opposition by federal prosecutors and, within three days of being granted release, the client was home and reunited with his family. 

Importantly, the court rejected the Bureau of Prisons claim that Mr. Heitman’s prostate cancer was not a terminal condition under the federal compassionate release statute, 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(1)(a)(i). The court noted Mr. Heitman’s cancer was a terminal condition despite Mr. Heitman’s 60-month life expectancy. Earlier cases under the compassionate release statute had defined terminal conditions as requiring a life expectancy of 24 months or less. The court also said the client could be released regardless of his terminal status because his age, hypertension, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease put him at “heightened vulnerability” due to the prison’s COVID-19 outbreak. These two findings will be valuable in advancing compassionate release claims for other federal inmates. 

“The court clearly recognized that the COVID-19 outbreak at Butner prison represents a serious health risk for our client, regardless of his terminal illness,” said Mr. Galloway. “The situation there is particularly dangerous, with more than 625 confirmed cases, prisoners sleeping within two feet of each other, and masks being improperly reused and not uniformly worn. We’re extremely pleased that our client has been released from that environment and can now spend his remaining time with his family.”

The Zuckerman Spaeder team was led by Mr. Galloway, under the supervision of partner Shawn Naunton, and assisted by senior paralegal Jay Chen.

This compassionate release representation is one of twelve that the firm has taken on since last summer and part of the firm’s long-standing dedication to community service and pro bono representation.  With respect to compassionate release, the firm takes referrals from the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse, a collaboration of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and FAMM.  For more information about the Clearinghouse, visit www.FAMM.org.

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Kalie Walrath
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