Henry Devonta McEachern’s family expects him to die any day now. But they don’t want him to die in prison.
McEachern’s older sister, Agina Anderson, said her brother has been battling leukemia since 2012. Nearly two weeks ago, a doctor who has been treating McEachern, 22, at the Central Prison infirmary in Raleigh filed for his medical release from prison after determining the illness is terminal.
McEachern’s 90-day sentence for violating probation ends Sept. 7 anyway, but his family has not yet heard from state prison officials whether he can leave early.
“Just think,” said Anderson, 33, of Charlotte, “if they can let someone off death row get their last meal request, then why can’t he get his last wish of being with his family?”
Keith Acree, a state correction spokesman, said typically an inmate serving an active sentence can receive a medical release if he is terminally ill. The release request is first reviewed by the state corrections medical staff and then reviewed a second time by the state parole commission, who then vote on the matter.
“It can take some time,” Acree said. “A couple of weeks maybe.”
But Acree said Henry McEachern’s case presented “something new,” because he is serving a sentence for a probation violation, which is viewed differently under the Justice Reinvestment Act passed by the General Assembly in 2011 that changed the state’s sentencing laws.
“I’m not sure whether the medical release process even applies in his case,” he said.
McEachern’s mother, Stephanie McEachern of Fayetteville, said doctors at the prison hospital have taken her son off chemotherapy and are now giving him morphine to help manage his pain. But she has not yet given up hope.
“I just want to get him out,” she said Friday. “I have been researching places where they are doing trial testing. I don’t think it’s fair for him not to have a fighting chance because he’s so young.”
A Cumberland County judge last year sentenced McEachern to 30 months’ probation after he was convicted of a series of felony breaking and entering and larcenies in Fayetteville in 2012, according to the state Department of Correction.
In late February, Fayetteville police again charged McEachern with breaking into a home, larceny after breaking and entering and possession of stolen goods.
The convictions violated the terms of his probation, and a judge sentenced him to 90 days in jail. McEachern began his sentence in May at the Cumberland County jail, before he was transferred to Central Prison, where he could be treated.
Stephanie McEachern said her son was doing well before he began his sentence. Things took a turn for the worse while he was in jail when he ran out of the chemotherapy pills he was taking for the illness. His mother said that she could have refilled her son’s prescription if Cumberland County jail officials had taken him back to the doctor.
But they did not, Stephanie McEachern said, and he was later transported to Central Prison with a fever and admitted into the hospital as a seriously ill patient.
“I think they didn’t take him to the doctor because they didn’t want to pay for his medicine,” Stephanie McEachern said about her son’s stay at the Cumberland County jail. “A 30-day dosage costs about $40,000. My son has Medicaid and has a co-pay of $3 per pill. All they had to do was take him to the doctor, and I could have got his prescription filled.”
In an email Friday to The News & Observer, Lan Tran-Phu, medical director of the Cumberland County Department of Health, said the jail has a health program that is “designed to provide medical care, both acute and chronic, to all inmates who need medical attention while they are incarcerated.”
Tran-Phu said inmates can be transported for medical care if they are referred by the detention center’s physician. He declined to comment when asked what conditions would have prevented the jail staff from transporting a very sick person to the doctor in order to receive medication.
Stephanie McEachern said she visited her son at Central Prison on Friday. He is conscious but has lost weight. His body is wracked with pain, and he is unable to walk.
But he is still fighting, she said.
“Ma, keep looking,” Henry McEachern told his mother after hearing about her search for experimental treatments for his illness. “Just keep looking.”