Kentrell Amerson is back in jail. He was released to attend the funeral of his brother Jonas, who was shot to death a few weeks earlier in Omaha, Nebraska.
Amerson went to the service then hacked off his locator bracelet and fled. A fugitive task force picked him up later that night.
The issue of whether or not to let prisoners out of jail for funerals is complex. Why would a judge or warden temporarily release a criminal? Yet, what human being would keep another one behind bars while his brother or mother is being buried? Amerson was a petty criminal, awaiting sentencing on a car theft conviction (he now faces a felony escape charge) but many funeral release requests involve criminals in for much more heinous crimes.
Last week, a Rhode Island mother suspected of beating to death her two-year old toddler requested permission to attend his funeral. The boy had been rushed to the hospital with eyes swollen shut and his body covered in bruises. He died of a blow to the head that likely caused severe brain injury. “My wife lost it,” her husband told police. The woman has a history of mental illness, in the courtroom she broke down in tears. “Regardless of the charges, she is absolutely devastated and would like to attend the funeral of her son,” said her lawyer, according to a Boston Globe article. The judge rejected the request.
Another haunting example comes from Springfield, Missouri, where earlier this month a man suspected of starting a fire that killed three children belonging to the woman he intended to marry requested to be let out of jail for the funerals. Friend’s continue to proclaim the man’s innocence but the judge denied his request.
What happens when a mob boss wants to be released? Last December, Nick Rizzuto, the eldest son of Canada’s most powerful mafia family, was shot to death in broad daylight while standing in a friend’s driveway beside his black Mercedes. Mob experts called the murder “an unprecedented challenge to the power of the Rizzuto clan” and said retaliation would be necessary for the family to retain its authority. The clan’s don, Vito Rizzuto, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Colorado in connection with several New York murders, requested to be released for his son’s funeral. U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons agents turned him down.
And what about a ruthless politician who has been banned from the country? Earlier this year, Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Fatah leader expelled from the Gaza Strip by Hamas for trying to assassinate the territory’s prime minister and overthrow the government requested permission to reenter for his mother’s funeral. “The government in Gaza will look favorably on any demand it receives for Dahlan to make a humanitarian visit to the Gaza Strip,” said a spokesperson on the inside, according to an AFP news article.
And a drug lord? In Scotland last July, a convicted murderer who ran a lucrative drug operation and was known on the streets of Glasgow as Birdman requested permission to attend the funeral of his mother, who died of a suspected heroin overdose. He was granted it. Eight armed guards stood by, expecting retaliation against Birdman for the rival gangster he ordered beat to death in 2005. Birdman helped carry his mother’s coffin, attached to another guard by what’s known as a closet chain. He received a standing ovation. His girlfriend shouted “Love you, Robert!”, according to a British newspaper article.
Many prisons take funeral attendance requests on a case by case basis but Texas has set guidelines. The state allows “approved offenders” to attend the funeral of an “immediate family member”. A section on “Non-medical Emergency Absences” from the state’s “General Information Guide for Families of Offenders” clarifies the terms. An immediate family member is defined as the prisoner’s parents, spouse, siblings, half-siblings, children and surrogate parents if prison records confirm such a relationship. Offenders must meet strict guidelines in order to be granted a release; no major disciplinary penalties during the last six months, no disciplinary history of assault on staff and no pending felonies. Certain prisoners are prohibited a release, including those in for murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery and stalking.