A cancer patient was sent to prison for DUI. Two months later, he was dead from COVID.
William Lamprecht stood before the judge in a Torrington courtroom in September fearing the four months he was about to spend in prison would become a death sentence.
The 62-year-old man, who had been battling an alcohol and drug addiction for years, was awaiting his fate after pleading guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in New Milford last year.
But cocaine and vodka weren’t the only things destroying his body – Lamprecht also was fighting follicular lymphoma, for which he took Truxima – a drug his doctor warned the court could cause immunosuppression.
“The only concern is this – I’m a little scared about the COVID thing,” Lamprecht told Superior Court Judge Christopher Pelosi at his sentencing on Sept. 15, according to court transcripts from the case.
The judge replied, “I agree,” to which Lamprecht added, “I’m immunocompromised, you know. I’m 62 years old. It’s just a little scary.”
While Pelosi understood Lamprecht’s concerns about being sent to a congregate setting during a deadly pandemic, the judge explained that his hands were tied. State law mandates that second-time DUI offenders like Lamprecht must be sentenced to at least four months in prison.
But before sending Lamprecht to the Department of Correction’s custody, the judge made sure the court orders showed that Lamprecht suffered from cancer and had a “susceptibility” to COVID.
Lamprecht was sent to the New Haven Correctional Center that day – the jail with thesecond-most COVID cases among DOC facilities since the onset of the pandemic.
Lamprecht’s fears were realized barely two months later. He died alone, isolated in a hospital bed, of COVID-19 that he contracted in one of the three prisons and jails he served time in — one of which is an open-dorm setting, where practicing social distancing is virtually impossible — before being transferred to the COVID unit at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution. Less than a month after his transfer to MacDougall, the fourth correctional facility he’d been in since being admitted to DOC custody a month and a half earlier, Lamprecht was dead.
To advocates, Lamprecht’s death is indicative of a myriad of systemic failures of the criminal legal system. But for Kenyatta Muzzanni, the director of organizing for the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice, which has been advocating throughout the pandemic for the state to release more people from prison and jail to reduce the spread of the virus, the failure starts at the system’s front end, before Lamprecht was even incarcerated.
“What happened should not have happened to that man,” Muzzanni said. “It shows that we take more consideration into putting people in cages and calling that rehabilitation, rather than actually helping people. A person lost their life for a DUI. That’s unacceptable.”
On Oct. 1, Lamprecht was transferred from the New Haven jail to Robinson Correctional Institution in Enfield. Six days later, he was sent to the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers.
According to DOC data, there have been 810 cases of COVID-19 at New Haven Correctional Center, the second-highest number of any prison or jail in the system. Osborn has the fourth-highest number of COVID cases and, as of last January, had the highest number of deaths due to the virus.
The last place Lamprecht was transferred to, on Oct. 18, was the COVID-19 medical isolation unit at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield. When he became too ill to be cared for there, Lamprecht was transferred to St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, where he died on Nov. 23.
DOC spokeswoman Karen Martucci said she couldn’t comment “directly about anyone’s protected health information” or answer questions about what the agency knew about Lamprecht’s underlying health condition.
It’s unclear how or where Lamprecht contracted the virus. Everyone sent to a correctional facility is tested for the virus when they’re admitted, put in quarantine for 14 days, then tested again before they’re released to the general population. Martucci said any prisoners who test positive after the two-week quarantine at intake are either sent to MacDougall-Walker or isolated at the prison or jail where they were quarantined. The DOC did neither with Lamprecht and instead transferred him to Robinson and then Osborn.
“An individual’s medical need is reviewed as part of the transfer process to ensure appropriate placement,” Martucci said. “Osborn is an example of a facility with an in-patient infirmary and the ability to provide a high level of medical care.”
DOC records indicate Lamprecht was admitted to New Haven Correctional Center on Sept. 15. Just over two weeks later, he was transferred to Robinson Correctional Institution.
Robinson has dormitory-style housing units. Chad Petitpas, a man who is incarcerated there, describes the living spaces as large square warehouses with about 60 bunk beds in 10 rows. Petitpas said he has a bed about 3.5 feet away on each side of him, so there is no way he can socially distance, between the two people in the beds to his left and right and the man who sleeps above him. Plus, he said, prison officials don’t enforce mask wearing in the dormitory-style living space.
“My personal space, even my bunk, I’m sharing with five other people,” he said in a phone call from the prison. “You don’t have your own personal area.”
Martucci said prisoners are tested before they’re transferred to other correctional facilities, a safeguard to mitigate the spread between prisons and jails. Muzzanni said Katal is in touch with people who are currently or were recently incarcerated, and despite the DOC’s safeguards, she’s dubious that those transfers protect the incarcerated from catching or spreading the virus.
“There is no physical distancing in a prison or a jail,” Muzzanni said. “And so we can’t expect that to happen in this van transfer, and it doesn’t happen when they get to the facility.”
Lamprecht was the 22nd prisoner to die from COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. DOC officials announced a 23rd incarcerated person died on Dec. 13, a 51-year old serving a 10-year sentence.
‘There’s no sense to it’
Lamprecht, a native of Wingdale, N.Y., in Dutchess County, ended up in Connecticut’s prison system after a night of drinking in Danbury on Feb. 21, 2020, when another motorist saw him driving his car erratically on Route 7 in New Milford and called police.
When the officer approached his vehicle after pulling him over, Lamprecht rolled down his window and thanked the officer for stopping him, according to the police report.
“I’ve been drinking,” Lamprecht admitted, informing the officer he’d consumed a bottle of vodka and used cocaine that night. He agreed to take a field sobriety test.
Lamprecht started to perform the walk-and-turn test, but he quickly lost his balance, stopped and told the officer, “There’s no sense to it. I’m all f—ed up.”
At the police station, Lamprecht took a breathalyzer test that read 0.1005%, well over the state’s legal limit of 0.08%. He was charged with DUI and released after turning in his license and paying a $1,000 bond.
At Lamprecht’s initial court appearance, state prosecutor Jonathan Knight filed a document indicating Lamprecht was a two-time DUI offender. He had been convicted of DUI in November 2014 in Newburg, N.Y., according to court records.
The previous conviction in Newburg meant that Lamprecht was facing a mandatory jail sentence under a state statute that calls for anyone convicted twice for a DUI within 10 years to be “imprisoned not more than two years, 120 consecutive days of which may not be suspended or reduced in any manner.”
Lamprecht would face that mandatory-minimum sentence unless the state’s attorney reduced or dismissed the charge.
Litchfield State’s Attorney Dawn Gallo said she has “reviewed this case, and can say that the prosecutor who handled the file exercised a considerable amount of discretion by requesting only the minimum mandatory amount of incarceration mandated by statute, in light of the defendant’s prior record and history of substance use.”
“Persons who drive under the influence of alcohol and cocaine pose a substantial risk of serious injury and death to every citizen on the roads of our state,” Gallo said. “That said, the Litchfield State’s Attorney’s Office extends its deepest condolences to the Lamprecht family.”
Muzzanni said Lamprecht shouldn’t have been sent to prison for a DUI, considering his medical needs, the prison system’s strained health care services, the rising infection rate in the state’s prisons and jails and the low vaccination rate among DOC staff. Instead, Muzzanni said, Lamprecht should have been offered treatment in the community.
“That is where there’s a major system failure, where we just lock people away instead of actually getting them the help that they need,” she said.
Pelosi referred to state law when he handed down the sentence.
“So you know, Mr. Lamprecht, it’s 120 days mandatory that the court can’t suspend,” Pelosi said.
The judge then added that on the mittimus — a document the court gives to DOC outlining the sentence — court officials would highlight Lamprecht’s need for medical attention because he was being treated for cancer and was susceptible to COVID.
In a phone interview, Robert Lamprecht acknowledged that his brother had been in and out of trouble his whole life, but he never caused anyone any physical harm.
“If he had hurt anybody, any violence or anything, he would have had to suffer the consequences,” Robert Lamprecht said. “But I think with this, it’s just a shame … it wasn’t a real serious offense.”
Lamprecht said he doesn’t blame the sentencing judge for his brother’s death.
“They gotta follow the law, and I respect that,” he said. “So, it’s a matter of policy. Maybe they just haven’t come up with a policy to cover the special circumstances with the COVID.”
Difficulty maintaining recovery
Lamprecht tried to beat his demons after his 2020 arrest.
Court records show that he enrolled in a program at the Lexington Center for Recovery in Dover Plains, N.Y., for at least six months after his arrest. He had passed weekly drug and alcohol tests since at least January 2021, except for one time in February when he tested positive for both cocaine and alcohol.
His social worker, Judith Mueller, wrote in her last report that Lamprecht had “thoughts of indulging in his addiction often.”
But Mueller said he “is learning to move high risk thoughts to neutral thoughts of a different subject.” She also wrote that Lamprecht was regularly attending 12-step meetings and had an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.
She concluded her analysis saying, “Client is having difficulty maintaining recovery and would benefit by attending an in-patient, specialized treatment program.”
In May 2021, Lamprecht had completed a three-week, in-patient drug rehab program through the Phelps Hospital in Tarrytown, N.Y.
Meanwhile, during that time frame, Lamprecht had eight court appearances in Torrington while also battling health issues.
He missed a court date last summer, causing the judge to issue a re-arrest warrant that would have revoked his bond. However, public defender Mark Johnson, who was representing Lamprecht, informed the judge the next day that his client had been ill and couldn’t make it to court.
The judge rescinded the warrant, and Lamprecht pleaded guilty on June 29, knowing that he was now facing the mandatory prison term.
‘Hope that his time goes swiftly’
At his sentencing, public defender William Schofield told the judge he had discussed the pre-sentence report with Lamprecht. Schofield said he also submitted medical records of Lamprecht’s cancer treatments.
Schofield said that Lamprecht was trying hard to beat the addictions that he had been fighting his whole life.
“I do believe he is sincere in his attempts and is working on the program. I’ve spoken to his AA sponsor, who is also present in the courtroom, Judge. He does have resources and he is making use of them,” Schofield said. “And I hope that his time goes swiftly and safely considering his medical condition.”
Given an opportunity to address the court before his sentencing, Lamprecht told the judge he understood the actions he’d taken to put himself in this position and what he had to do.
“I want to get this past me,” he said. “I want to take care of it.”