Court Of Appeals Rules COVID-19 Concerns Not Grounds For Inmate’s Release

Larry Donnell Dunlap [Photo courtesy ADC]

The Arizona Court of Appeals has denied an emergency petition by a state prison inmate who claims being behind bars during the COVID-19 pandemic has put his life in danger because he has “serious underlying medical conditions.”

Larry Donnell Dunlap is serving a 69.5-year sentence with the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) after being convicted in 1996 of five counts of child molestation and one count of sexual abuse of a child. He is slated to be released in August 2062 at which time he would be 105-years-old.

Dunlap, 62, filed an emergency motion this spring in Pima County Superior Court seeking an order to be “immediately released from prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic virus.” He claims he is unable to safely distance himself from other inmates at the Arizona State Prison Complex – Eyman, which houses nearly 5,600 ADC inmates.

However, Judge James Marner denied the motion, noting “the requested relief is neither warranted nor available.”

Dunlap then petitioned the court of appeals to review Marner’s ruling. On Monday, the appellate court released its 3-0 decision which notes Marner correctly concluded that the relief Dunlap requested “is not cognizable” under court rules and that the judge did not abuse his discretion in dismissing Dunlap’s motion.

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Dunlap can now petition for review to the Arizona Supreme Court but he can only present the same facts and arguments he put forth to Marner.

ASPC-Eyman is one of four prisons in the greater Florence area that house more than 10,000 ADC inmates combined. Only 137 of Eyman’s inmates have been tested for COVID-19 as of July 7, according to the agency’s website, and less than 600 inmates total have been tested at the four Florence area complexes.

Two confirmed virus-related deaths have been recorded at one of the complexes, the ADC website reports, and another six inmate deaths at that same complex are suspected of being connected to COVID-19.

This is not the first time Dunlap has attempted to achieve early release. Court records show he applied to the Board of Executive Clemency for commutation of his sentence back in August 2017, but the board did not approve his application beyond the first phase of the process.

Dunlap then filed a petition for special action with the Maricopa County Superior Court, seeking judicial review of the clemency board’s action. His petition was denied by a judge who ruled the court had no jurisdiction to hear a challenge of the clemency board and that Dunlap failed “to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.”

In February, Dunlap filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Doug Ducey and members of the clemency board for alleged civil rights violations. He later sought a federal court order for temporary release from ADC custody, but all of his motions requests were denied and the case was dismissed in early May.