JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Jerry Garcia shuffled slowly into a cramped jail visiting room at the Jefferson County jail and quickly got to the point.
“I’m dying. They gave me six months to live,” he said wearily.
But last month a Jefferson County judge harshly slapped down requests for mercy from the terminally ill inmate and his family who requested Garcia be allowed to return home to die.
“All I want is to go home and spend my last days with my daughter, family and grandchildren,” said Garcia, 62, during a jailhouse interview with CBS4.
In April Garcia pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor third-degree assault charge related to a domestic violence incident. He was convicted of hitting his girlfriend with his cane during a drunken argument.
A month later, on May 8, Jefferson County Court Judge Bradley Burback gave Garcia the maximum sentence possible — two years in jail — citing Garcia’s past criminal record, his lack of remorse and unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions, and Garcia’s words when he was arrested by Lakewood police: “Next time I’ll kill her. My family is going to take care of that bitch.” Garcia now says that was a hollow threat made while he was drunk.
After he was jailed on the assault charge, testing showed Garcia was suffering from terminal liver disease and would likely die soon. Garcia acknowledges a lifetime of alcohol abuse contributed to his liver problems.
At a hearing Aug. 23 to consider modifying his sentence and allowing him to serve the remainder of his sentence via home detention, Jefferson County Jail Dr. James Brill testified that Garcia likely has a limited time to live.
“I doubt that he’ll go six months to a year, though,” Brill said. “I think it’s very unlikely.”
The physician also told the Judge, “He’s not in a safe environment in the jail at all given his medical condition … it’s not suitable to maintain somebody at the end stage of their life … it’s not an environment that’s suitable for this care of his illness.”
The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office indicated that allowing Garcia to go home and die with his family was the preferred option.
“Based on the circumstances, the expense that the jail would have to incur to take care of him, and the logistics that would go into taking care of him, the people don’t object to the motion for reconsideration being granted,” said Deputy District Attorney Alison Connaughty.
Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey told CBS4, “When you look at the overall situation, the fact he’s going to die in the near future prior to his sentence being fulfilled and the financial burden on the jail, we felt this was a case where we would not have an objection to a different kind of sentence.”
Storey said prosecutors typically respect and abide by sentences imposed by judges but said this was an “extraordinary situation.”
Two of Garcia’s children also appeared in court and asked the Judge to show mercy. But Judge Burback rejected prosecutors, the physician and Garcia and his family.
“So it’s apparently after decades of alcohol abuse that Mr. Garcia finds himself in the health situation that he’s in. And my concern, again, about reconsidering and releasing Mr. Garcia from custody and imposing some sort of an in-home detention sentence is that is a much lesser degree of containment than can be offered by the county jail because, again, in the county jail I am assured that Mr. Garcia is not in a position where he could decide to make good on his threat and kill the victim in this case.”
CBS4 learned the victim in the case now lives in South Dakota, and according to Garcia’s family, she too supports his release from jail. The woman did not testify at the sentence reconsideration hearing. Garcia’s family insisted he is so frail that the only danger he poses is to himself, if he falls down.
But Burback, a former Jefferson County prosecutor, blistered Garcia.
“And, frankly, I don’t care about Mr. Garcia’s physical condition. I don’t care about that. Mr. Garcia has put himself in this position. Mr. Garcia has, again, after decades of alcohol abuse finds himself with cirrhosis that’s terminal and that’s unfortunate, but that’s Mr. Garcia’s choice, he chose to do that. So, frankly, I don’t care about Mr. Garcia being in a difficult health situation over at the jail, that’s not entering into my consideration at all.”
Burback said his concerns for public safety outweighed the jail’s financial and logistic problems in caring for Garcia and the humanitarian issues.
“So while I understand the circumstances, I do not find a compelling reason to reconsider the sentence,” said Burback.
The Judge did not respond to phone messages or an electronic message sent by CBS4.
Garcia’s son, Jessie, a Denver sheriff’s deputy, said he was shocked at the ruling.
“My dad at this point is not physically capable of hurting anybody. There’s no threat to anyone, he’s not going to have the ability to hurt anyone out there. Nobody deserves to die in jail. Nobody deserves that.”
Garcia’s daughter, Geri, wiped away tears and said, “I can handle my father dying, but I can’t handle him dying in an inhumane way. It’s not fair.”
She said had he been released she had planned to care for her father in his waning days at her Lone Tree home, which is in a gated community.
“He’s a good man. He needs to come home,” she said. “The only person he is going to harm is himself, by falling over or something of that nature.”
Garcia’s family says they are desperate and don’t know where to turn.
Jacki Kelley, a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said as Garcia’s condition further deteriorates, and as the financial and medical burden on the jail grows, it’s likely the sheriff’s department will also approach Judge Burback and ask that he allow Garcia to go home to die.
“I want to be home with my family. I want to go home and die,” said Jerry Garcia. “I don’t want to die in here.”
View the transcript of the August reconsideration hearing for Jerry Garcia
- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com