An inmate battling cancer, possibly in multiple parts of his body, is among the more than 100 prisoners in Kansas requesting executive clemency from Gov. Laura Kelly.
While Christopher McIntyre, 47, has not been able to get a clear diagnosis, or care plan, for the cancer living in his lung or liver, his family was told his medical condition is “grave” and “terminal,” he wrote in his clemency application.
“I am experiencing constant nausea and weakness of limbs,” McIntrye wrote in January, later adding: “Because of my deeply vulnerable state, contracting COVID-19 could be a death sentence for me.”
McIntyre’s plea for clemency, an umbrella term that includes pardons and commutations, was part of a recent wave of applications sent to Kelly by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas. Many were tied to virus-related health concerns.
Sharon Brett, legal director at the ACLU of Kansas, said the organization stands behind all of its 105 clemency petitions and recognizes that prisoners are “more than” their convictions. McIntyre’s petition is particularly compelling because of his serious health problems, which dissolve any argument about him being a risk to public safety, she said.
“Really, it can’t get more dire than Stage 4 cancer for somebody,” Brett told The Star.
McIntyre, who grew up in Wichita’s Fairmount neighborhood, was sentenced in May 2016 to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to one felony count of aggravated burglary, which occurred in Wichita the year before.
McIntyre’s public defender had previously asked that he be sentenced to probation or six months of incarceration. He argued that McIntyre took responsibility for his actions and that the victim was supportive of the plea.
“The harm in this case was less than typical, as all items were recovered from the defendant,” the lawyer wrote.
In a statement, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said McIntyre was sentenced to 122 months, in part, because of his prior criminal history. That includes convictions of criminal threat in 2012 and aggravated assault in 1992.
“It is difficult to assess when someone is raising concerns about a health risk vs. a substantiated need for end-of-life, palliative care,” Bennett said. “I will take a closer look at the clemency application before responding to the governor.”
Kelly’s office said it had not received his clemency application as of Thursday.
The Star reported last month that Kelly, a Democrat who has voiced support for re-examining sentences of inmates convicted of non-violent, low-level offenses, had yet to grant any pardons since taking office and had announced no commutations.
The surge in clemency applications during the COVID-19 pandemic has been unlike anything Kansas has seen in recent years, The Star reported. But Kansas is among 16 states where pardons are rare, according to the Restoration of Rights Project.
Brett of the ACLU said McIntyre deserves to go home to relatives who will get him the medical care he needs. She asked: What good does continuing to imprison McIntyre — who at times loses his balance and uses a wheelchair — do for the community?
“Clemency is not about what you did in the past, but about what you’re deserving of right now,” Brett said.
McIntyre first reported pain in his side and stomach in September when he was housed at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility. Medical staff gave him Tylenol and told him he would be OK, said his sister, Alesia McIntyre.
“It wasn’t until he lost like 50 pounds that they realized that, ‘Oh my god, OK, something is going on,’” she said.
Citing privacy requirements, the Kansas Department of Corrections said it could not comment on McIntyre’s medical concerns.
“KDOC’s medical contractors are required to deliver medical care equal to the quality and quantity of care an individual would receive in a community setting,” spokesperson Carol Pitts said in an email.
The month after he reported pain, McIntyre was scheduled to undergo a CT scan, but it was rescheduled, according to his clemency application. His family members started calling the facility because of his “ongoing, relentless pain,” and by November, staff found numerous cancer masses that may have spread to other parts of his body, he wrote.
But McIntyre said medical staff told him they could not advise of a care plan until he saw an oncologist at El Dorado Correctional Facility, where he was moved in December after he contracted COVID-19. Outside of pain management injections, he received no treatment for his cancer there for weeks, he wrote.
McIntyre, who fears he could contract COVID-19 again, said his relatives believe the facility is “only trying to make me comfortable and wait for me to pass from this illness.” His attorneys say he could die before his May 16, 2024, release date.
To date, 16 Kansas inmates have died after contracting COVID-19 and more than 6,000 have been infected, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections.
Three in five inmates in Kansas have tested positive for the virus, which is 6.1 times the overall infection rate in the state, according to The Marshall Project, a news outlet that covers criminal justice issues and has been tracking COVID-19 behind bars.
A father of five children ages 10 to 22, McIntyre said he has worked to rehabilitate himself behind bars. He completed a business management diploma from Stratford Career Institute and worked jobs that require security clearance.
McIntyre’s father, Mark McIntyre, said his family does not condone his son’s decisions that landed him in prison. But he believes there needs to be more empathy in the criminal justice system, especially for prisoners with medical issues like his son.
“He did not go into the system to have a death sentence,” he said.