Cancer-Stricken Inmate Seeks Release Before Death

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Jim Wade

A dying bank robber, now serving the last 24 months of a 16-year prison sentence, may not fully understand the scope of the pro bono effort that's been organized to help him. But the state's largest law firm is embroiled in an 11th-hour plea to secure his release.

Bernard Mulka, 51, has been weakened from rectal cancer to the point that he is unable to walk on his own. His sister, Lynn Atkinson, wants her brother to have the dignity of dying at home.

"He's never hurt anybody," she said. "I don't think robbing a bank is a nice thing to do, but all I'm saying is, he's dying, let him come home."

For the past three weeks, three pro bono lawyers at Robinson & Cole in Hartford have been working to get Mulka out of prison. They argue that a state law on medical parole was created for this very purpose.

James Wade, one of the Robinson & Cole lawyers, said the law allows dying inmates to be sent home if they have less than six months to live, have not been convicted of a violent crime, and if they are longer a threat to others.

"There is no dispute that Mr. Mulka is a dying man," Wade wrote in a Dec. 30 letter to Erika Tindill, chair of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. In the letter, Wade indicated the lawyers had been seeking a hearing for two weeks but had received no answer.

"We received another report from [a doctor] stating that Mr. Mulka has terminal, incurable cancer … which is causing him significant pain and suffering and has debilitated him to the point that he is barely able to walk at this time."

Wade added that they "fear that Mr. Mulka will die before his application for medical and/or compassionate parole is decided, or even heard." With that concern at the forefront, Wade said in the letter, he will seek a federal court order and monetary damages if a decision is not made by Jan. 30.

"The continued delays we have encountered, all while Mr. Mulka is dying in prison, is a form of cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eight Amendment to the United States Constitution," Wade wrote.

Medical parole has been around for many years, approved by legislators in Connecticut and other states in the 1980s as the AIDS epidemic led to a mounting number of deaths in prison populations. The federal government and all but a few states now have laws allowing an inmate to be released from prison if death is imminent.

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