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November 22, 2014

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Why one inmate costs taxpayers more than $400,000 a year

Image

COURTESY OF THE HEIN FAMILY

Jamie Hein, center right, with her mom, Beth, left, sister, Cassandra, center right, and father, JIm Hein, right.

Jamie Hein

Jamie Hein with one of the dogs she trained as part of the prison’s Pups on Parole program. Launch slideshow »

What is it?

Hereditary Angioedema (HAE) is caused by a genetic defect that controls C1-Inhibitor, a blood protein. Normally, this protein helps to regulate responses in the blood to fight disease and infection. But in HAE patients, the defect prevents the protein from performing its intended regulatory function, leading to biochemical imbalances that cause painful swelling.

What does it cost us?

• In just the time since her request for a pardon was denied, infusions twice weekly for Hein have cost the state upward of $176,000.

• Hein will be eligible for parole on June 9, 2017, after she has served the minimum 10 years. At that time, the accumulated cost of her treatments, at three per week, would be $1,980,000 (or $1,320,000 at two per week).

• Hein's maximum sentence was reduced to 12 1/2 years because of good time credits. So the latest she will be imprisoned is Nov. 26, 2019. But then, at three weekly infusions, her treatments would have cost $3,516,000 (or $2,344,000 at two per week).

Every week, Jamie Hein receives two drug infusions to combat spontaneous swelling in her hands, face, feet, genitals, abdomen or throat.

And every week, Nevada taxpayers pick up the roughly $4,000 cost of each infusion for the Nevada Department of Corrections inmate.

The yearly bill for Hein’s treatments: $416,000-plus.

The cost of one infusion is more than what the state spends on the average inmate’s medical expenses in a year. She is one of about 13,000 state inmates, but her treatments account for 1 percent of the $41 million allotted for health care for Nevada prisoners in the upcoming year.

Hein’s family wants her to be released to their care. But to do so, Hein would have to be released from custody — which can take place only with a pardon of her 2007 murder conviction.

In November, the Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners denied Hein’s pardon request. She’s served more than six years of her 10-year minimum sentence and is a model prisoner by most accounts.

Hein suffers from hereditary angioedema, a disease that affects about one in 50,000 people.

Sometimes Hein’s hands swell, bulging like blown-up surgical gloves, puffed and ready to pop. Other times, her intestines balloon to abnormal proportions, creating the appearance of a pregnancy. A protein missing from her blood causes the swelling. The infusions serve as a replacement for that protein.

Hein’s grandmother had the same condition. She lived around the corner from a hospital, but she died in her 30s when her throat swelled and she couldn’t get timely medical attention.

Hein is now 33 years old.

If her throat were to swell, she would need to be raced to University Medical Center for treatment, almost 10 miles from the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center in North Las Vegas, where Hein is imprisoned.

“It’s essentially a death sentence that Jamie has right now,” Hein’s attorney Kristina Wildeveld said, noting Hein’s condition worsens with stress. “What is the most stressful place you can imagine being? Prison.”

Casting a play in hell

Hein was convicted of second-degree murder in 2007 in the death of Timothy Herman, a 36-year-old who had a violent past and an alleged history of abusing his ex-girlfriend — Hein’s aunt.

In early April 2002, Hein, 21, had come back to Las Vegas after living in California. Before deciding to stay with her aunt, though, Hein and her parents needed one question answered: Would Herman be there?

Hein’s aunt assured them Herman was out of the state. But days later, Herman returned.

On April 8, 2002, according to witnesses, Herman sucker-punched an 18-year-old for seemingly no reason, threw another teen against a car and clocked the 18-year-old again after the teen tried to suggest that Herman, high on meth, needed to calm down.

After the third incident, Hein went into her aunt’s kitchen and put a steak knife in her pocket.

It was a decision that Hein’s father, Jim Hein, obsesses over to this day. A year earlier, Jamie Hein had been living with her aunt and called her father, distraught that Herman had beaten up one of their older roommates.

“I said, ‘Jamie, I don’t care what you got to do — you get a bat, a dog, a gun, a knife, I don’t give a (expletive) — do not let this guy get his hands on you because he’ll kill you. I know his type,’” Jim Hein remembered telling his daughter. “And sure enough, she did what I said to do — and now I feel like an idiot.”

On the evening of April 8, 2002, Jamie Hein went upstairs to her aunt’s room. Herman was asleep in the bedroom. But he woke up, and a struggle ensued. Herman grabbed Hein by her hair. She swung the knife. The single stab clipped Herman’s aorta.

Hein was charged with murder.

Prosecutors said Hein intended to confront Herman — and even if Hein didn’t plan to kill Herman, she hated him, wanted him gone and was armed. It was obviously a deadly situation, prosecutors argued.

Hein maintained she was trying to keep from being thrown down the stairs and never intended to kill Herman.

After the fatal blow, two of the teens Herman fought with that day raced up the stairs and beat Herman.

The teens would end up taking deals, each pleading to a count of voluntary manslaughter. They were sentenced to four to 10 years in prison.

Hein was offered the same deal but rejected it.

Prosecutors cast Hein as the ringleader in a three-person plot to kill Herman.

They asked jurors to believe their witnesses about some details and dismiss other testimony to make their narrative work. Several witnesses gave different versions of the events.

In closing arguments, a prosecutor addressed the varying accounts of what happened on the staircase.

“The fact is everybody — and I mean everybody — in this case has some kind of problem, some kind of skeleton,” prosecutor Josh Tomsheck said. “You can’t cast a play in hell and expect the actors to be angels.”

Forgiven but not pardoned

Jamie Hein

Jamie Hein with one of the dogs she trained as part of the prison’s Pups on Parole program. Launch slideshow »

After the conviction but before sentencing, prosecutors offered Hein a deal:

Plead guilty to second-degree murder and perjury and give up the right to appeal in exchange for a 10- to 25-year sentence.

The perjury charge was tied to her testimony about not going up the stairs to confront Herman.

Hein’s family felt she had a good case for appeal, but the risks were great. If Hein took the deal, she could be out of prison in her 30s. Not taking the deal meant the possibility of a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.

Hein would accept the plea deal, the family decided. She went to prison.

She had been diagnosed with hereditary angioedema before the crime, but the disease took a severe turn when she began serving time.

No one, though, could have predicted how rapidly Hein’s health would deteriorate in prison.

Nor could anyone foretell the relationship that blossomed between Hein and Herman’s mother, Kathy Herman.

By 2010, Kathy Herman had written a letter forgiving Hein and expressing her willingness to see Hein’s release someday.

Hein’s life-threatening illness coupled with the new relationship prompted her family to ask the state to forgive Hein, too. The family used Kathy Herman’s note, in which she says she believes Hein acted in self-defense, to try to win a pardon.

But when the pardon hearing approached, Kathy Herman worried about her family. They hadn’t forgiven Hein.

In a letter to Gov. Brian Sandoval, she wrote that she couldn’t break up her family. Justice, she said, would be done when Hein had served a minimum of 10 years.

Kathy Herman repeated her views at Hein’s hearing before the Pardons Board, which is composed of the governor, Nevada Supreme Court justices and the attorney general.

The board denied the pardon.

Five months later, the hearing haunts Kathy Herman.

“I felt so bad that I really have been sick emotionally and physically over this last hearing, but I know Jamie is going to be strong and I know that God has a purpose for this,” Kathy Herman said. “It’s not my fault that she hasn’t been released. It is the governor’s and the judges’. They determined what was to be, not me.”

But the testimony doomed Hein’s pardon, Wildeveld said. She contends the state had every interest in granting the pardon — not just because of the disease but because of how she has transformed her life.

During the five years leading up to trial, Hein said she realized she was an alcoholic. She became active not just in her own recovery, but the recovery of others as well. More than 40 people, many of them women Hein had helped overcome substance abuse, were at the hearing in support of a pardon.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto noted Hein’s efforts, but said she worried talk of a pardon before Hein served her minimum sentence would revictimize the Herman family.

Hein’s attorneys were disappointed. Before Cortez Masto spoke, the justices seemed open to releasing Hein to house arrest.

Hein accepted the decision.

“If I was supposed to get out, nobody could keep me here,” she said. “If I wasn’t supposed to get out, that means there was work for me to do and I’m happy to stay here and do my work.”

What’s next?

Hein would have needed the Pardons Board’s help to be put on house arrest, since Category A felons — rapists, murderers, kidnappers — aren’t eligible for residential confinement.

The Pardons Board operates with wide latitude, so changing the severity of Hein’s felony would have been within its purview.

With the pardon denied and her parole date three years away, Hein’s family now hopes for legislative relief. Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Clark County, is working on legislation to allow Category A offenders who don’t pose a risk to the community and suffer from severe ailments to have the option of house arrest.

“It is a huge risk to have her (in prison),” Wildeveld said. “Hopefully she will be able to get relief someday. Gov. Sandoval has the power to do that, and he knows that she is there.”

Her sister, Cassandra Hein, has launched a website — www.freejamiehein.org — to rally support for releasing Jamie.

Meantime, the swelling and the $4,000 treatments continue. And the state keeps picking up the tab.

The Department of Corrections this month asked the state to approve an additional $2.2 million in contingency funds to cover an unanticipated increase in medical costs. Prison officials said several inmates have had catastrophic medical cases over the past two years that were not anticipated in the budget approved by lawmakers in 2013.

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