Disabled Elder Ezra Bozeman Granted Medical Transfer Following Support from Governor Shapiro

May 20, 2024, Allegheny, PA – Ezra Bozeman, 68, a quadriplegic who’s been incarcerated in Pennsylvania for 49 years, was granted a medical transfer from prison to a facility in the community after Judge Evashavik of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas continued his hearing from last week. Mr. Bozeman is now on life support in the ICU, facing sepsis due to complications from his quadriplegia. 

On Friday, May 17 the Board of Pardons listed Mr. Bozeman’s case for reconsideration. A majority of the five members of the Board voted to grant him a public hearing, which means Mr. Bozeman will get to make his case to have his sentence commuted later this year. 

Since the medical transfer law has been in effect, for 15 years, only around 50 people have been granted “compassionate release” through the courts. Ezra Bozeman’s petition is the first in Pennsylvania history to receive the full support of the sitting Governor after Governor Shapiro’s office endorsed this petition. Mr. Bozeman was represented in court by Abolitionist Law Center and Amistad Law Project.

Mr. Bozeman was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole, also known as death by incarceration in 1975. He served 49 years in prison for this offense. Well respected by incarcerated people and prison staff alike, he’s been a leader and mentor to many people in state prison, having served as a Certified Peer Specialist and mentor to countless others.

For four years, Mr. Bozeman was suffering from a spinal cord injury that was misdiagnosed. When his spinal issue was finally diagnosed with an MRI last fall, he was scheduled for surgery to treat his injuries. After his first successful surgery, he developed a life-threatening blood clot in his lungs, followed by a large blood clot in the region of his spinal surgery. He received a second surgery to treat this condition and emerged completely paralyzed from his chest down. Mr. Bozeman is now a quadriplegic who requires a high level of care. 

“Ezra Bozeman has been a shining example of what it means to live as a dignified human being, even as he received poor medical care as a quadriplegic,” said Sean Damon, Legislative Director of Amistad Law Project. “Instead of becoming bitter and losing hope, he allowed the love that he feels for his family and friends to be his north star and guide him through this dark moment. We are hopeful that Ezra’s medical condition stabilizes so that he can be transferred to long term care. We will be overjoyed to welcome Ezra home and thankful he’ll be surrounded by his loved ones for the rest of his days.”

Despite support from Governor Shapiro, the Allegheny County DA’s office opposed Mr. Bozeman’s petition, and he continued opposing this petition even as Mr. Bozeman was put on life support in his local hospital’s ICU. 

As reported in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Deputy District Attorney Ronald M. Wabby Jr. demanded that Mr. Bozeman speak at last Tuesday’s hearing even though his physical condition prohibits him from speaking for extended periods of time because mucus builds up in his throat.

“I want to hear him say it,” Wabby said. “He has to actually be saying it himself.”

Established in 2009, Pennsylvania’s compassionate release law permits the court to grant the transfer of an incarcerated person who is seriously ill and expected to die within one year to a hospital or long-term care nursing facility. Because the criteria for compassionate release is so narrow, petitioners often die before their petition comes before a judge. In other cases, they are extremely sick but a treating physician might be unwilling to agree on an exact life expectancy. 

At Monday’s hearing, Mr. Bozeman was physically unable to address the court as he is on a ventilator on life support.

“It’s tragic and cruel that people have to suffer for so long in order to qualify for this relief,” said Dolly Prabhu, staff attorney Abolitionist Law Center. “Mr. Bozeman should have been home a long time ago. We’re now seeing the results of decades of mass incarceration: the prisons are full of sick and elderly individuals who could be safely released and whose medical care is beyond the capacity of prisons to provide.”

This medical transfer follows a grassroots campaign to bring Mr. Bozeman home, led by his fiancee, Christine Roess. A member of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, Christine was supported by the Abolitionist Law Center and Amistad Law Project, who circulated a petition calling on Governor Shapiro to grant Mr. Bozeman reprieve that garnered over 800 signatures. Christine’s fight to bring Mr. Bozeman home was featured on CNN last month

The Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm inspired by the struggle of political and politicized prisoners, and organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States. Abolitionist Law Center litigates on behalf of people whose human rights have been violated in prison, educates the general public about the evils of mass incarceration, and works to develop a mass movement against the American punishment system by building alliances and nurturing solidarity across social divisions. Follow Abolitionist Law Center on Facebook, @AbolitionistLC on Twitter, and @Abolitionistlc on Instagram.

Amistad Law Project is a public interest law firm and organizing project working to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania. Founded and led by Black feminists, we work to abolish death by incarceration, create alternatives to policing, and get our communities the material resources and power they need to thrive. Follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.