TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - A terminally ill Florida woman born with HIV will be released from prison, where she was serving a five-year sentence for biting a sheriff's deputy, the Florida Parole Commission voted on Wednesday.
By a 2-1 vote, the commission voted to grant a medical release to Betsie Gallardo, 27, who was diagnosed earlier this year with end-stage cancer and is expected to live only a few more months.
Gallardo's mother, Jessica Bussert, has been trying to gain release for the Haitian-born daughter she adopted 17 years ago, since Gallardo was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer that had spread to her liver, ovaries and other organs.
Bussert, a firefighter from Lafayette, Indiana, asked commissioners to show compassion by allowing her to take her daughter home. Unable to grant an unconditional release, the commission instead will allow Gallardo to be released to a Miami hospice while seeking approval by Indiana correction officials to return.
"Quite frankly, my daughter should have received a harsh punishment. That is not in question," Bussert said after the hearing. "The question is should it have been a life sentence and I don't believe it should. I'm just asking for a few weeks to be with her. I want her last days to be around those who love her."
The release came over the objections of law enforcement representatives, including the Collier County sheriff's deputy Gallardo bit while in custody in Naples, Florida, following an intoxicated encounter with police.
Collier County Deputy Tracy Brown, who was bitten while restraining Gallardo to keep her from harming others, said in a letter to the commission that her life was turned upside down by the incident.
A mother, Brown said she has been forced to endure painful treatments and the mental anguish of knowing she might have become infected with HIV. Though she so far has tested negative, Brown said she's also concerned about the long-term impact of the treatments themselves.
"I, along with others, suffer like Ms. Gallardo herself has suffered from her illness," Brown wrote. "For this reason, I offer empathy for her situation and pray that you can feel empathy for my situation."
Gallardo was arrested in August 2008 on a charge of child neglect after leaving her boyfriend's child home alone for more than 30 minutes. Prosecutors later dropped the child neglect charges but Gallardo was convicted of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence.
Florida law makes it a felony for HIV-positive people to transfer body fluids in the commission of a violent act and Gallardo received the maximum five-year sentence.
On Wednesday, Bussert said her daughter's actions were indefensible and later offered an apology to Brown, her family and friends.
"From the bottom of my heart, I am sincerely sorry for the pain and suffering my daughter caused them. There is nothing I can do to take that away just like there is nothing I can do to take away my daughter's cancer," she said.