From the ages of 16 to 60, William Garrison spent his day inside a Michigan prison. It was all leading up to May 6, when the convicted murderer who repented "over and over again" for the crime of killing a 50-year-old man during a 1976 robbery was set to walk out a changed man, his sister Yolanda Peterson tells ABC News. But on April 13 Garrison was pronounced dead at Lenox Township's Macomb Correctional Facility; a postmortem test verified he had COVID-19. "His bunkmate said that he was gasping for air and he called out for help," Chris Gautz of the Michigan Department of Corrections tells ABC. The death is even more tragic considering Garrison was granted early parole in February, before the current pandemic took hold.
But Garrison refused to leave then, saying he wanted to finish his sentence, which was to wrap up in September, so he could "walk out a completely free man," says Gautz, rather than have to report to a parole officer. Garrison did agree to be released in May amid concerns about the spread of the virus in prisons. The Detroit Free Press reports the tuberculosis he suffered as an infant led to him having a lung removed, which put him at greater risk. But it was too late. "We're heartbroken because he was coming home" and "wanted to work as an advocate for people in jail," says Peterson. Garrison is the first of Macomb Correctional Facility's 1,300 inmates to die after contracting COVID-19. Some 81 had tested positive as of Monday. (Read more coronavirus stories.)