Horacio Estrada-Elias will home for Christmas.
It’s a heartwarming turn of events. A 90-year-old man serving life in prison for a nonviolent marijuana crime will go free. A judge this week granted Estrada-Elias compassionate release, reports CNN. Federal Judge Danny Reeves overturned his previous order denying release.
Estrada-Elias, the subject of a CNN investigative story in September, was freed this week after more than a dozen years behind bars.
“It’s a huge blessing for all of us,” his daughter Elizabeth Estrada said on Tuesday. “We’re so excited for the whole family to finally be together.”
Estrada-Elias suffers from congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation and chronic kidney disease. He also contracted the coronavirus while in prison, according to court affidavits filed by doctors.
His prison doctor predicted in April 2020 that he had “less than 18 months” to live, and his warden recommended release. The warden pointed to Estrada-Elias’ spotless disciplinary record. He wrote last year that “he has been diagnosed with an incurable, progressive illness in which he will not recover.”
Request Cruelly Denied Last Summer
Judge Reeves denied Estrada-Elias’ motion for compassionate release in July. The judge heartlessly claimed a life sentence is “the only sentence that would be appropriate.”
Last month, however, an appeals court ordered Judge Reeves to reconsider. Two judges on a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote Reeves had “abused (his) discretion.” Reeves’ abuse, they wrote, was in ignoring the fact that Estrada-Elias is unlikely to reoffend and “overly emphasizing” his nonviolent crimes. One pot-hating judge dissented.
The Spirit of Christmases Past apparently visited Judge Reeves. Just a day after getting the request, he issued a new opinion approving compassionate release.
Estrada-Elias Flying Home Today
Estrada-Elias’ happy return home from prison in Minnesota is today, Friday, December 17. He will fly to the San Diego area on Friday, Estrada said. He’ll live with his sister, and the family plans to set up a medical bed to take care of him at home.
Judge Reeves has an especially cruel record on compassionate release; never mind “tough,” this is just psychotic. Reeves routinely rejected the vast majority of more than 100 release motions that came before him since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a CNN analysis of court records.
The judge argued in his earlier ruling that the large volume of Cannabis that Estrada-Elias trafficked showed “a flagrant disrespect for the law.” He concluded “that can only be reflected in an equally severe sentence.”
‘Common Sense and Human Dignity’
His reversal “seems to be rooted in common sense and human dignity as opposed to legal formalities,” said Alison Guernsey, a University of Iowa law professor. Guernsey has studied compassionate release cases and reviewed Reeves’ opinion. She said it is uncommon for inmates who are denied compassionate release to win on appeal.
Former President George W. Bush nominated Reeves to the bench.. He is chief judge in his district. A staffer declined an interview request for him.
Estrada-Elias got a life sentence in 2008 after pleading guilty to a conspiracy to traffic “tens of thousands of pounds” of marijuana into and around the United States. Judge Reeves, who handled his case, had to give him a life sentence because he had previous drug convictions.
Last Prisoner Project Celebrates Release
“Thank you to our Cannabis Justice Initiative partners at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for working with us to secure Horacio’s release.”