Compassionate Release and Pan Am Flight 103

On Wednesday, December 21st, 1988, a Boeing 747 named "Clipper Maid of the Seas" and designated as Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky by a bomb, killing 259 people on board. Large sections of the plane fell on the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, destroying several houses and killing 11 more people, bringing the total number of fatalities to 270 souls. Of this number, 189 were American citizens.

After a three year investigation by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, during which 15,000 witness statements were taken, indictments for murder were issued on November 13, 1991 against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, the LAA station manager in Luqa Airport, Malta. The accused men were finally handed over to Scottish Police at Camp Zeist, Netherlands on April 5, 1999. On January 31, 2001 Megrahi was convicted of murder by a panel of three Scottish judges and sentenced to life in prison while Fhimah was acquitted.

Megrahi served just over 8 1/2 years of his sentence in Greenock Prison, throughout which time he maintained his innocence. He was released from prison on compassionate grounds on August 20, 2009. Essentially, Megrahi did 11.3 days for every life he was responsible for taking.

Let me preface what I am about to say with this: there is no such thing as one life being more important than 270 lives. All human life is protected and revered. The life of a homeless person is as important as that of a major world leader. I am not going to try and excuse anyone, not even myself, from culpability, even if some of us make claims of actual innocence as did this Libyan Intelligence officer.

Frank Soffen has served 42 years of a natural life sentence so far. He is currently in the Hospital Section of MCI Shirley dying from cancer. The quality of his life is deplorable. He lives in an atmosphere of "NO HOPE" with no chance for redemption or, as in the case of Meghri, compassionate release. He sits around in his adult diapers waiting for his last breath. He can look forward to some seriously rotten fish or burnt "hamburgers" from the chow hall as the highlight of his days, or he could revel in the retching throes of stomach twisting pain. What he cannot look forward to is a humane society whereby we regard the dying as much as did the Scots when they released a mass murdering terrorist.

Lefty Gilday is an 83 year old man with Heart Disease and Parkinson's Disease, and he is currently spiraling into the deepest depths of dementia. He has over 40 years in prison. I talk to Lefty every day and try to make sense of what he is trying to say. It isn't easy. He is in a "Bubble Cell" with no TV or radio in there with him, because he sees better movies without them in his own mind. He tells me about his trips to the outside world every day, and I play along with his dreams. Better to dream than to face his reality. His reality is like Frank Soffens': he can look forward to nothing, even if he could look forward at all. As a person who has been his friend for 38 years, and for all of us here at "Shirley World," it is a sad thing to watch so helplessly while our old friend dies by these savage increments.

James Flowers has over 40 years in prison for murder. He was 17 when he first came in. He is also in one of the hospital rooms, his legs shriveling from not being used, as he too is in a place of "No Mind," almost fully catatonic. His every need must be administered to by his proxy and caregiver, Sabree. If James Flowers had killed 270 people, perhaps he could have died at home, still in a catatonic state but at least surrounded by loving family members. No one knows if James Flowers would even recognize any of them, but then, that isn't the point. The point is, he should be allowed a "compassionate release." He should be shown that same mercy that was shown to Megrahi, a Brutal Mass Murderer of Innocents.

I am in the process of dying myself. My fault in dying is that I served my country honorably and came back from an unpopular war with a body full of bullets and shrapnel holes and a lung full of chemicals sprayed on us by my own country. This chemical "orange" gave all of us Vietnam Vets another chance to die for our country. I would rather die with my family near my side or be euthanized, compassionately!

Compassionate release came about for Megrahi after the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in Scotland, Kenny MacAskill, reported that Megrahi was going to be released on compassionate grounds due to terminal prostate cancer.

MacAskill spoke with Scottish Justice and tradition to temper justice with mercy and compassion: "Scotland was bound by Scottish values to release him and to allow him to die in his home country of Libya".

Megrahi was welcomed home by a hero's parade and given a new villa just outside Tripoli in the New Damascus area, where he lives to this day — a full two years after being released on compassionate grounds.

Massachusetts needs to examine its collective conscience and determine if prisons should be the place for the sick and elderly of its own citizens to die in a cage, or if it should follow the "Scottish tradition" of compassion and mercy.

At 1:42pm on September 10, 2011, our dear friend Lefty Gilday passed away. It is too late for Lefty, but there are others who are deserving of consideration for compassionate release.

   Joe Labriola

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