[UPDATE] Dying Woman Released From Prison

By: Jennifer Milton; Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email
By: Jennifer Milton; Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email

[UPDATE] 1-7 1:00PM --

Late last night Betsie Gallardo was released from the prison hospital ward where she had been held for the last week. Wearing street clothes provided by her mother, Betsie was wheeled outside to a waiting car and was finally able to leave behind the shackles, guards, and bars that had been her existence for the last 13 months.

Betsie traveled to a Miami hospice where she will remain until she can be transferred back to Indiana. She is in great spirits, but exhausted from her illness and her recent ordeals.

Pictures of her release are attached above.

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"I will offer with every ounce of sincerity I can, that I am deeply sorry about what my daughter did. That had to be a horribly frightening thing and no one deserves to be treated that way."

Jessica Bussert reaches out to Tracy Brown and her family, apologizing for her daughter's vicious attack on the Collier County deputy, which ultimately could have put her in an early grave.

27-year-old Betsie Gallardo (gah-yar-do), who was born HIV positive, bit the deputy while she was intoxicated, breaking Brown's skin.

Shortly after receiving her prison sentence, Gallardo was diagnosed with stage four gallbladder cancer and now, her time is running out.

Supporters and lawmakers advocated for her release on Wednesday, and the Florida Parole Commission agreed to let Gallardo go to a south Florida hospice, under the condition that she will eventually move back to her Indiana home and remain on house arrest.

"I can't wait to see that shackle come off her leg, and I'm going to take her in my arms, and I'm sure we're going to laugh and cry and sing praises and just hold each other," said Bussert.

A representative from the Florida Parole Commission says the commission's decision to release Gallardo should not be interpreted as condoning her behavior, but say their concerns for the public's safety are alleviated because of the severe decline in her health.

Under Florida law, it is a felony for HIV-infected people to knowingly transmit bodily fluids that may infect another person with the virus.

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The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Jan. 5, 2010 --

A terminally ill Florida inmate born with HIV will be released from prison where she was serving a five-year sentence for biting a sheriff’s deputy, the Florida Parole Commission voted Wednesday.

By a 2-1 vote, the commission voted to grant a medical release to Betsie Gallardo, 27, who was diagnosed earlier this year with stage four cancer and is expected to live only a few more months.

Gallardo’s mother, Jessica Bussert, has been trying to gain release for her daughter, whom she adopted from Haiti 17 years ago, since Gallardo was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer that tests showed in March had spread to her liver, ovaries and other organs.

A firefighter from Lafayette, Ind., Bussert asked commissioners to show compassion by allowing her to take her daughter home. Unable to grant an unconditional release, the commission instead voted to allow Gallardo to be released to a Miami hospice while seeking approval by Indiana corrections officials to return.

Gallardo was in prison for biting a sheriff’s deputy, breaking the skin and raising fears that the deputy may have been infected with HIV.

“Quite frankly, my daughter should have received a harsh punishment. That is not in question,” Bussert said after the hearing. “The question is should it have been a life sentence and I don’t believe it should. I’m just asking for a few weeks to be with her. I want her last days to be around those who love her.”

The release came over the objections of law enforcement representatives, including the Collier County sheriff’s deputy Gallardo bit while in custody in Naples following an intoxicated encounter with police.

Collier County Deputy Tracy Brown, bitten while restraining Gallardo to keep her from harming others, said in a letter to the commission that her life was turned upside down by the incident.

A mother, Brown said she has been forced to endure painful treatments and the mental anguish of knowing she might have become infected. Though she so far has tested negative, Brown said she’s also concerned about the long-term impact of the treatments themselves.

“I, along with others, suffer like Ms. Gallardo herself has suffered from her illness,” Brown wrote. “For this reason, I offer empathy for her situation and pray that you can feel empathy for my situation.”

Gallardo was arrested in August 2008 in Naples on a charge of child neglect after leaving her boyfriend's child home alone for more than 30 minutes. Prosecutors later dropped the child neglect charges but Gallardo was convicted of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence.

Florida law makes it a third degree felony for HIV positive defendants to transfer body fluids in the commission of a violent act. Gallardo received the maximum five- year sentence and was scheduled for release in May 2014. She was serving her sentence in Broward Correctional Facility, but last week was moved to a secure area of the Kendall Regional Medical Center.

Several Democratic state lawmakers had taken an interest in the case, and Reps. Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes, Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg and Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, all urged the panel to grant the woman’s release.

Bussert said her daughter’s actions were indefensible and later offered an apology to Brown, her family and friends.

“From the bottom of my heart, I am sincerely sorry for the pain and suffering my daughter caused them. There is nothing I can do to take that away just like there is nothing I can do to take away my daughter’s cancer.”


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