Credit: Friscocali through Openverse licensed under CC BY 2.0
The Essex County Courthouse, where 29 years ago he was convicted of killing det. John Shchyrek. Kamau’s petition for release from sympathy was denied.

The man who killed a Newark police detective at the Essex County Courthouse 29 years ago is eligible for release under state compassionate release law, but he does not deserve freedom, a judge ruled Monday.

The law, passed and signed last year, allows judges to keep a prisoner in custody, even if he meets medical criteria for release, the judge said.

Monday’s ruling is at least the second time a court has refused to release a prisoner who is either terminally ill or completely incapacitated and eligible for release under the law. The charter itself came in response to a recommendation from the New Jersey Sentencing and Penalty Commission, which said the state’s former medical exemption program was “rarely used” because it was too difficult for sick people to navigate.

According to a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, since the law was enacted about a year ago, only one inmate has been released through compassionate release.

After an approximately three-hour hearing on Monday, Supreme Court Judge Ronald Wiegler refused to release Al-Damani Kamau, formerly known as Eddie Lee Oliver.

Kamov was convicted of killing det. John Shchyrek in June 1993, to prevent him from testifying against his brother and cousin Kamov in a non-drug case, in the same building of the Essex County Court where the hearing took place on Monday. Kamov also seriously wounded Sheriff’s Officer Ralph Ritzol and wounded Tom King, another police officer, when he tried to escape.

“Zero Compassion”

“This defendant deserves the same sympathy he showed to Detective Shchirek and Detective Rizol, which is zero sympathy,” Wiegler said from the bench, emphasizing the word “zero.”

Wiegler said he disagreed that 53-year-old Kamov was terminally ill. But it seems that Kamov, bedridden with end-stage multiple sclerosis, is completely incapacitated.

“This court has the right to deny the application, even if it met the criteria,” Wiegler said.

Tonya Campbell, Kamava’s sister, said she hoped the judge would release her, but feared she would not. Wiegler was “biased. It was personal. He was vindictive ”in his ruling, not just enforcing the law.

“We are not trying to survive 1993 here,” she said, adding: “It’s just a sad situation.”

And what can we – and the governor – be concerned about if he seeks re-election in 2021?

Campbell, who said she felt “great remorse” for Shchyrek’s family, said Kamau’s lawyers were planning to appeal the refusal. She still hopes to bring him to North Carolina and care for him until his death.

“I just want my brother to go quiet,” she said. “I just hope he can go easy.”

Kamov’s public defenders argued that while they did not dispute the seriousness of his crime, it should not be a factor in determining whether to release him from mercy.

Emotional considerations

“Today we heard emotional testimony from children. Family and friends of Shchyrek. Of course, they object to his release, ”said Abigail Fish, one of Kamau’s public defenders. “We do not question the trauma and suffering they suffered as a result. But we do not allow victims to make such decisions. And the statute only instructs the judge to determine whether the applicant meets the established criteria. “

Kamov is considered terminally ill and “requires round-the-clock care” and “unable to perform basic life activities” that include feeding, dressing or bathing or using the toilet, said Dr. Arthur Brewer, medical director of a health care provider. Kamov has been hospitalized eight times since April last year and is now in Cooper University Hospital in Camden, where he has been a patient for more than a week, Brewer said.

Acting Essex County First Attorney General Romesh Suhdea argued that Kamov was not eligible for release, citing Brewer’s testimony that Kamov’s condition had improved since he was admitted to Cooper’s hospital earlier this month and that he could live another year.

Wiegler agreed that Kamov was not terminally ill, but said he was still entitled to release under the law because he was completely incapacitated. However, the judge said he had the discretion to order Kamau to remain in custody, and apparently succumbed to the nature of the crimes Kamau committed.

A shocking crime

“The statute does not say that the court must release a prisoner who meets the requirements, the statute says that the court can,” Wiegler said. “It is somewhat ironic that we are here under the new statute for the compassionate release of some prisoners when this particular accused committed perhaps one of the most horrific, brutal, courageous, cold-blooded, premeditated murders ever committed in Essex County, and dared I say the state of New Jersey that shocked the whole community. “

But Fish argued that the nature of the crime should not be a factor in deciding liberation from mercy.

“The legislature clearly intended the Mercy Charter to cover even the most heinous crimes when it passed the statute last year when it stripped the New Jersey Parole Board of the right to release terminally ill prisoners and handed over courts with this force, ”she said. “He has been actively expanding the right to include those convicted of murder, manslaughter and other serious crimes, a group that was previously excluded from burning by the parole board.”

This rights came into force a year ago after passing the Senate and Assembly with the support of the two parties and was signed by Governor Phil Murphy. The Commission for Sentencing and Orders had recommended changes stating that only five people had been released in five years under the previous parole statute. The legislators said it was designed to streamline the release process, offer condolences to prisoners who are dying or so incapacitated that they do not pose a threat of re-offending and save public money.

Under the law, a prisoner who has been confirmed by two doctors as terminally ill, who has 6 to 12 months left to live, or who is permanently incapacitated, and who is unable to carry out daily activities due to an illness he was not present at the time of sentencing, is entitled to submit a request. to release. Prisoners are given the right to a lawyer seeking their release, which they do not have, before a parole board. The Prosecutor General’s Office or the District Prosecutor’s Office may object.

Witnesses called

And so it happened in this case. Sukhdea called four witnesses, including two other law enforcement officers injured that day 29 years ago, and Shchyrek’s wife and brother.

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“This is called compassionate release. There was no sympathy for my husband when he was shot in the back, when he was unarmed, ”Cheryl Shirek said. “I don’t feel any anger towards his family. I can really understand why they wanted him at home … I don’t believe it’s in anyone’s interest. “

“Unfortunately, this gentleman is not fit for society,” said Ritzal, a former sheriff’s officer who said he was shot in the chest and watched “my badge spinning down the hall in slow motion,” as he testified via Zoom with him. house in Florida. “I’m more worried about the person or people he may be in contact with … I don’t think he can function in society.”

As for the argument that a sympathetic exemption would save the state from the high cost of helping the seriously ill, Tom King, another officer who was injured that day, said he would run a Go FundMe page to receive contributions – and contribute – to save Kama prisoner.

“I don’t understand how it’s even entertained,” he said.

Several members of Kamov’s family were in the courtroom to support his release, but all refused to testify. If the judge allowed his release, Sister Kamawa planned to bring him to North Carolina to live with her until his death.

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