NEW HAVEN — The state Department of Correction will discharge an 80-year-old former Marine and convicted killer to a halfway house as he sues for his freedom with claims he should be released from “unlawfully dangerous conditions” prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
David Terwilliger, represented by the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic, this week filed a petition for a writ of habeus corpus in U.S. District Court.
Karen Martucci, director of external affairs for the DOC, noted in a statement Wednesday that Terwilliger had previously been denied parole after being convicted of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm, but said the DOC had “approved a halfway house placement.”
“The agency is currently evaluating program options for the most appropriate setting. In line with Commissioner Cook’s direction, his release has been prioritized based on age and medical score,” Martucci said.
Students with the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic and Terwilliger’s relatives urged the court to let him out of prison Tuesday in a release Tuesday.
“My father lives with a cellmate, and it’s impossible for him to self-isolate in prison,” said David Terwilliger, Jr., Terwilliger’s son and a resident of Tarpon Springs, Fla. “It’s not a matter of if he gets this virus, but when. We are asking the court to save my father’s life. Please. We love him so much.”
On Wednesday, his daughter said she was pleased he’d be leaving Osborn Correctional Institution, but urged the court to release him into her care in Georgia in a statement.
"While I am happy that my father will be immediately transported out of Osborn Correctional Institution, I am still greatly concerned about his health and safety," said Mary DeSalvo, Terwilliger's daughter. "My father is frail, and I'm terrified that he won't make it if he is exposed to this virus in a halfway house. We are asking the state to release him to his family in Georgia, where he can self-isolate in safety away from other individuals in our care. Connecticut shouldn't feel a responsibility to continue to hold him and care for him."
"We are heartened to learn that CDOC plans to release Mr. Terwilliger to a halfway house in response to his lawsuit," said Kayla Morin, a third-year law student at Yale Law School working on Mr. Terwilliger's case. "Every day that Mr. Terwilliger remains in Osborn Correctional Institution places him in graver danger of serious illness and death. However, it's not enough: the state should allow Mr. Terwilliger's family to transport him to his daughter's care in Georgia, where he can self-isolate away from other incarcerated individuals."
In the petition, the students and supervising lawyers, argue that Terwilliger, convicted of manslaughter after “a tragic dispute in his driveway that led to his son-in-law’s death,” cannot be appropriately protected from the coronavirus in prison given his age and “multiple serious health conditions,” attorneys and students with the clinic allege in the petition.
He cannot go into self-isolation, they argue, as he lives with a cellmate, and solitary confinement cells “share ventilation systems with other parts of the prison facility, potentially allowing for airborne viral transmission,” along with the risks posed by food service and common showers.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 244 DOC staff and 321 inmates have contracted the coronavirus, according to the department. One prisoner has died.
Terwilliger, then a Thompson resident, fatally shot Donald Kennedy, his son-in-law, during a 2003 confrontation, according to the Norwich Bulletin.