Photo: Doug Berry/ Getty Images
  /  01.23.2023

Nearly two decades ago, Leola Harris was convicted of killing a homeless man she’d befriended named Lennell Norris, who entered her residence and was shot shortly after. Since the 2001 murder, Harris has always maintained her innocence. Now, at 71 years old, with no prior criminal history and suffering from multiple life-threatening health issues, the elderly woman has been denied parole.

Last week, the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles decided against granting Harris freedom. She is confined to a wheelchair, dependent on dialysis and suffering from end-stage renal disease, among other concerns. In just six minutes, the board agreed she should continue serving her 35-year sentence, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. The organization added that during her time in confinement, she has proven to be a model citizen and poses no public threat. Unfortunately, Harris was not even allowed to attend her parole board hearing.

Felicia Hall-Grace, a registered nurse and case manager, testified on Harris’ behalf. The caretaker argued that the gravely ill woman would be better suited in a nursing home rather than the Alabama prison system. The Alabama Department of Corrections has even gone on record to say Harris has met the criteria for medical parole, however, board members remain unmoved. In a recent report by AP News, the outlet revealed 90 percent of eligible inmates were rejected last fiscal year — leaving Harris’ chances of making it out slim.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb is now involved with Redemption Earned, who is representing Harris’ legal battles. “This denial is an injustice and a waste of tax dollars,” she said. Cobb continued, “They are supposed to ask if someone has been adequately punished. She’s 71 and has served 19 years without violations in 12 years. Then the next question is, ‘Do they pose a risk to public safety?’ The woman is in a wheelchair and cannot even go to the bathroom by herself. She’s dying and they just denied her parole. It is an injustice. It is shameful.”

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