NEW YORK (AP) — Buoyed by supporters and a petition with nearly 13,000 signatures, a once-prominent New York civil rights lawyer said she has received a federal prison's backing for compassionate release from her terrorism case sentence while she fights advanced-stage cancer.
Lynne Stewart said in a statement released by her husband this week that Texas prison medical authorities recommended she be released from her 10-year sentence, an application that would need approval by the courts and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Stewart, 73, said the medical authorities recommended to the warden at the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas that her treatment would benefit from compassionate release, a rarely granted provision of regulations letting inmates leave prison early for "extraordinary and compelling reasons." The warden then forwarded the application to Washington, Stewart and her supporters said.
Stewart has been imprisoned since late 2009 when a federal appeals court in Manhattan called a judge's two-year, four-month prison sentence too lenient. She was resentenced to 10 years for a 2005 conviction on conspiracy charges for providing support to terrorist organizations by letting an Egyptian terrorism defendant serving a life sentence communicate with followers.
At her first sentencing, U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl cited her more than three decades of dedication to poor, disadvantaged and unpopular clients, calling the work that left her destitute a public service "not only to her clients but to the nation."
She said prison employees had doubted her chances at early release.
"Then I had this white blood cell setback, making me super-vulnerable and was quarantined for a week," Stewart said, citing a medical result that concluded she was vulnerable to the germs of others. She said she learned upon release from quarantine Friday that prison authorities concluded compassionate release was warranted.
"I must say that I was in a state of bliss," Stewart said.
Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said Wednesday that privacy concerns prevent the bureau from providing information about Stewart's case.
She said the bureau's compassionate release policy makes some inmates eligible for release if they have been diagnosed with an incurable disease and life expectancy is 18 months or less.
In a study last year, Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums said only about two dozen cases from among more than 215,000 federal inmates are recommended for compassionate release annually. A report called on Congress to enact legislation to let prisoners seek early release directly from courts.
Mya Shone, a Stewart supporter in Vallejo, Calif., said nearly 13,000 signatures had been collected to support Stewart's early release. Those signing include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, actor Ed Asner, singer Pete Seeger and Bianca Jagger. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory went on a hunger strike to show support.
She said Stewart had battled breast cancer before her incarceration, along with diabetes and high blood pressure, but it seemed in remission until it was found last June to have spread to the lungs.
Stewart's husband, Ralph Poynter, said Stewart had lost about 60 pounds in recent months but not her humor.
"She says, 'Now the good news, I'm losing weight,'" Poynter said. "We're crossing our fingers, praying to all the gods that we have and the ones that we don't have."