Betsie Gallardo: We’re Doing Great So Far, But January 5th Is Key

Since Christmas we’ve been talking about the story of Betsie Gallardo, a woman who is dying of cancer in a Florida prison.

When we last met, she was being starved to death, literally, at the direction of the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC), who had decided not only to withhold further treatment for her inoperable cancer, but to withdraw nutritional support as well.

Her adopted mother is fighting to have her discharged from prison so that she can die at home-and the DOC have recommended that she be released.

On December 9th, Florida’s Board of Executive Clemency (“the Board”) chose to ignore the DOC advice.

Since then, thanks to a whole bunch of outside pressure, things have changed, for the better, which we’ll be talking about today.

On January 5th, the Board meets again-and if we do this right, we can bring some closure to this story.  

The clouds dispell’d, the sky resum’d her light,

And Nature stood recover’d of her fright.

But fear, the last of ills, remain’d behind,

And horror heavy sat on ev’ry mind.

–Taken from Theodore and Honoria, from Boccace, by John Dryden

In our two previous stories we’ve discussed how Betsie Gallardo came to be in the position of facing intentional starvation while a prisoner of the State of Florida and how a variety of people who are in similar situations have been granted either clemency or a pardon by the very same Board, even as she has not.

Today we want to talk about what’s next-and since we want to keep a sense of balance in our work, we’ll also acknowledge some of the folks in Florida who are working hard to do the right thing for all concerned.

Best of all, we get to present some very good news-and this is one of those times when I’m happy to give you the good news first…and I’ll give it to you directly from Betsie’s adopted mother, Jessica Bussert.

She commented on the last story, which is posted at The Bilerico Project (it was Bil Browning, by the way, who got me to pursue this story in the first place)…and here’s part of what she had to say:

“As of the other day Betsie has finally started IV nutritional therapy and is already responding wonderfully.”

That’s right: thanks to all of your efforts-and those of a lot of others besides–Betsie has in fact been moved to a local hospital after nearly four weeks of no feedings, which is a fantastic victory in itself, even if it’s not the whole story.

So here’s what’s next: tomorrow, January 5th, the Florida Parole Commission has another meeting-and among the questions they may choose to decide is if they’ll accept the DOCs recommendation that Gallardo be released to die at home…and naturally, we want to influence that decision in her favor as best we can, so if you haven’t yet, today is the day to get in contact with the members of the Board, and I’ll give you the information you need to do that a bit farther down in the story.

But before we do that, let’s recognize some of the do-gooders in this story:

Jessica Bussert wants me to remind you that Commissioner Frederick B. Dunphy, of the Florida Parole Commission, was an early advocate for Betsie, and that he helped to get her case a badly-needed rehearing.  

She also wants us to be aware that State Representatives Daphne Campbell and Hazelle Rogers and State Senator Christopher Smith (who Chairs Broward County’s legislative delegation) were among a group of seven Florida legislators who formally requested her compassionate release, and that they’ve also written to the Governor, Charlie Crist, with the same request.

The fine folks at have been spreading the story within the local Haitian community-and in South Florida, that’s a fairly sizable community.

Bil Browning also has a story up that gives a lot more credit where credit is due and also points you to a petition you can sign…so have a look there as well.

Now, with the Parole Commission meeting tomorrow, you’ll want the appropriate email and other contact information for the three Commissioners, so here we go:

Chairman Tena M. Pate

(850) 487-1980

Fax (850) 414-2627

Vice Chairman Monica David

(850) 487-1978

Fax (850) 487-1220

Commissioner Frederick B. Dunphy

(850) 488-0476

Fax (850) 414-6031

Emails can be sent to the Commission’s public affairs representatives at

So that’s where we’re at: Betsie is being fed, which, thanks to all y’all, means half the battle is already won; tomorrow is the next chance to obtain a decision that would get her released-and public pressure has been working rather well so far.

So let’s make one last push and see if we can’t start a new year by bringing this story to an end…and if we can, it’ll be a good day for not only Betsie and Jessica, but for Florida as well.  

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On Starving In Prison, Or, Who Gets Pardons In Florida?

If you were with us on Christmas Day you heard the story of Betsie Gallardo, who, unless something changes quickly, is going to be intentionally starved to death in a Florida prison after being convicted of spitting on a cop.

In fairness, the State did not decide simply to starve her; instead, the Department of Corrections (DOC) first chose to withhold any further treatment for her inoperable cancer…and then they decided to starve her to death.

Her adopted mother is trying to get her released on humanitarian grounds; the DOC recommended in October that she be allowed to go home and die, the Florida Parole Commission refused.

Governor Charlie Crist chairs the Executive Clemency Board, who could also agree to let her go…and so far, they’ve also refused to take action.

Funny thing is, the Governor and his Board have been more than willing to step in when other Floridians requested pardons and commutations, even in situations that seemed a lot less dire.

Today, we’re going to look at that history-and to be honest, as with many things in the Sunshine State, from the outside…it all looks a bit bizarre.

“Forgiveness, particularly at this time of year, is a very worthwhile message for all of us to be reminded of…”

–Florida Governor Charlie Crist, December 9, 2010

So right off the bat, if you’re 21 years old and you’re having sex with a 15 year-old, you’re looking at some trouble if the police find out. In fact, you’re going to be regarded as a sex offender in the eyes of the law if you’re doing something like that and you get caught.

But as it turns out, in Florida, if you marry the young person in question, you can get a pardon. In fact, it comes up often enough that they’re called “Romeo and Juliet” pardons, and the Executive Clemency Board actually handed out a couple of them in 2009 to John Kemp and Virgil McCranie, who were dating 14 and 15 year-olds when they were originally convicted.

Actually, you don’t even have to marry the minor in question if you can obtain their consent for the underage sexual encounter and demonstrate a reasonable degree of remorse: that happened to Gregory Allen, who was 40 when he was convicted of having sex with a minor.

Describing the events that led to Allen’s conviction, Alex Sink, who was not elected Governor to replace Crist:

“…later expressed frustration with the state’s classification of people as sex offenders even though they may have been convicted of having consensual relations.”

Suzanne Squires killed her own daughter and seriously injured another woman while driving drunk, and just this month the Board commuted 12 years of her 23-year sentence so that she could return home to her family.

18 year-old Jennifer Martin was driving way too fast, and in the eventual crash she killed one of her passengers, and injured another, although she was sober when she did it; she received the second commutation granted by the Board under Crist’s chairmanship when her 16 year sentence for manslaughter by culpable negligence was cut in half in 2009.

The Doors’ Jim Morrison, who is not at risk to die in prison, was posthumously pardoned by the Board just this month for an indecent exposure “event” that took place in 1969. Reached for comment, Morrison suggested that these were strange days indeed when he could be pardoned in death and Betsie Gallardo can’t be pardoned in the final days of her life.

Donald Keehn lent a neighbor $7,000. When she couldn’t repay the debt, he drove by her house and shot up the place-five times.

He was 88 at the time, she was 66, but instead of starving him to death because of his cancer, congestive heart failure and kidney failure, the Board chose to commute half of his five year sentence in 2009 and set him free.

Remember when I suggested that Florida, to the outside observer, seems a bit bizarre?

Well…consider this:

If you date underage girls in “Chain Gang Charlie’s” Florida you can get a pardon or a commutation. In fact, if you do…they even have a special name for it.

If you kill someone drunk driving-or even driving sober-there might be a commutation for you, too.

Did you ever wag your penis onstage 40 years ago, then die, and now you’re having trouble finding a job because of your besmirched reputation? Governor Crist wants to help-and the Board has his back.

Have you ever committed a series of drive-by shootings, and then developed a series of serious physical problems that make you seek a commutation so that you can go home and die? Florida will find a way to let you out.

On the other hand, if you spit on a cop, and then you develop inoperable cancer…and your name’s Betsie Gallardo…Florida not only won’t let you out of prison to go home and die-they’ll starve you in prison, just to make your death come a bit faster.

Wanna discuss any of this with the Board? Here’s some handy contact information for Crist and the other three members:

Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida

(850) 488-4441


Bill McCollum, Attorney General

(850) 414-3300

Click here to e-mail Mr. McCollum  

Charles Bronson, Commissioner Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

(850) 488-3022

Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer Florida Department of Financial Services

(850) 413-3100

I don’t know how many of you remember the show “Daria”, but all of this reminds me of an episode of Sick Sad World-except that in this case the application of outside pressure is having an effect on the DOC…and that means we need to keep the pressure coming.

If we drag them to it, kicking and screaming, I’m sure the State of Florida will be just as compassionate and humane toward Betsie Gallardo as they were to all the other fine folks you read about here today-and with your help we’ll be able to write a happier ending to what has been, so far, a rather unhappy story.  

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On Death And Clemency, Or, Here’s A Real Christmas Story

There are many gifts to be given and received this holiday season; some that you can wrap and put under a tree, and some so intangible and ethereal that they cannot be held within the boundaries of paper and ribbon.

Instead, they exist within the boundaries of our hearts.

Among those intangible presents, few matter more than the chance to be with those we love-and at the time of our death, it’s the most important thing of all.

We have a chance to bring all of this to a dying woman and her family-but the only way it can happen is if we convince the Florida Department of Corrections not to kill her first.

It’s not a tale of light and joy-but if we get lucky, there could still be a happy ending.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

–Matthew 25:31-46, as presented in the New International Version of the Bible

Betsie Gallardo was born in Haiti in 1983-and if being born into a Haitian slum wasn’t enough of a disadvantage to a baby girl, she was also born HIV positive.

As a child, she became the playtoy of a local cop…but opportunity came to her doorstep when she and her sister were adopted by Jessica Bussert, an Indiana missionary who was working in Haiti at the time.

Over the years she created a better life for herself, including a chance to fulfill her desire to be a ballet dancer.

She moved to Florida, and in the course of the police responding to a car accident in which she was involved, she experienced a flashback that led to her spitting on a cop.

Because of her HIV status, the act of spitting on the police officer was considered to be battery with a deadly weapon; in November of 2009, convicted of both battery and resisting arrest with violence, she was sentenced to five years in prison.

(Are you thinking to yourself “you can’t spread AIDS by spitting”? You are correct, and people are being convicted for equally spurious “attacks” nationwide-but that’s a story for another day.)

Fast forward to today-and now Betsie is facing inoperable gallbladder cancer, which has spread to her colon.

This is causing an intestinal blockage-and that means she can no longer eat food.

It is possible to provide nutrition through intravenous feeding, but the State of Florida has decided not to do so…which means Betsie is going to be starved to death for the crime of spitting on a cop.

(I’m told by The Girlfriend, who is a nurse, that starvation is an especially gruesome way to die, both for the dying person and the medical staff who is involved in the event.)

Jessica Bussert is fighting to have her released on humanitarian grounds, based on her current medical condition.

There are two ways this can happen: the Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, chairs the Executive Clemency Board, who has the power to release her so she can die at home, or the Department of Corrections (DOC) can release her based on the authority of the Florida Parole Commission, who could give the go-ahead during their February meeting. (The Commission refused to release her in October, despite the fact that the DOC recommended they do so.)

How can you help?

We’re looking to apply public pressure, once again, on both the Office of Executive Clemency and the Florida Parole Commission. Here’s the contact information for the members of the Executive Clemency Board:

Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida

(850) 488-4441


Bill McCollum, Attorney General

(850) 414-3300

Click here to e-mail Mr. McCollum  

Charles Bronson, Commissioner Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

(850) 488-3022

Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer Florida Department of Financial Services

(850) 413-3100

So how about that?

What might be the greatest gift that you can give this year costs virtually nothing, doesn’t require you to fight the crowds at the Post Office and the mall, and, if it’s regifted, it makes the world a better place.

Go and give something of yourself this year…and if we get lucky, we’ll make it possible for a young woman do die with a bit of dignity, at home and surrounded by those who love her, instead of starved to death in prison by those who apparently couldn’t care less.  

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