Virginia Beaver couldn’t believe it when a Missoula County District Court judge let the man convicted of killing her son stay out of prison pending his appeal.
She got even madder when the judge let Brian Holm travel to Minnesota so he could be evaluated at the Mayo Clinic for a heart valve replacement.
But now Holm says, in a court document filed earlier this month, that he’ll have to stay in Minnesota far longer than anticipated because a doctor there thinks he may need a liver transplant before heart surgery is even an option.
Virginia Beaver has had it.
“I was hoping to live long enough to see Holm in prison,” Beaver said in a telephone interview from her home in Aberdeen, Wash., on Wednesday. But this most recent development leaves her doubtful.
Beaver, 62, knows something about the long wait for organ transplants. She had a double lung transplant just eight months before Holm drove drunk on Brooks Street in November 2010, veering across opposing traffic lanes and onto the sidewalk, where his car struck 24-year-old Brian Beaver.
She waited five years for her new lungs, replacing organs damaged by a hereditary form of emphysema. Her son nursed her through the recovery. Earlier this year, Virginia Beaver was treated for breast cancer.
“This judge’s decision isn’t helping my health,” she said.
Missoula County District Court Judge Robert L. “Dusty” Deschamps, who presided over Holm’s trial, is painfully aware of the emotions surrounding the case.
“I know everybody’s got a desire for punishment, including me,” he said Wednesday.
Brian Beaver’s sister articulated that desire.
“He can be on the transplant list. That’s fine,” said Teesha Beaver of Dallas, Ore. “But he needs to be in prison while he’s waiting.”
Laura Janes, chief of the Montana State Prison’s health services bureau, said Wednesday that the prison routinely cares for people with serious medical conditions.
“I can’t think of anything we have been exposed to that we haven’t been able to problem-solve as a team,” she said.
Holm was convicted in August 2011 of vehicular homicide while under the influence, and sentenced a month later to 30 years in prison with 15 suspended.
Within weeks of the jury’s verdict, Holm began filing one motion after another in District Court about what he saw as fatal flaws in the case. All were denied.
Holm turned to the Montana Supreme Court in July, claiming that Deschamps should have held a hearing to determine the validity of his complaints about his public defender.
After several delays, the Supreme Court received all of the filings in the case late last month. Deschamps said Wednesday he’s awaiting the court’s decision in the case, which he expects possibly early next year.
In September, Deschamps allowed Holm to travel to Minnesota – where his sister lives – for the evaluation at the Mayo Clinic on double valve-replacement surgery. Holm’s petition in that matter estimated that, if he had the surgery, recovery time would postpone his return to Missoula until December.
Now Holm’s attorney has filed an update on his medical condition, saying he was diagnosed with a “very damaged” liver that must be replaced before any heart surgery. “Therefore, defendant’s stay in Minneapolis is going to be considerably longer than originally anticipated due to the liver transplant list Brian Holm will have to be put on for said transplant,” wrote his attorney, Richard Buley of Missoula.
The doctor’s report included with the filing said tests showed Holm has early cirrhosis, in addition to his autoimmune hepatitis. Cirrhosis is a liver disease associated with hepatitis and alcoholism.
Nationally, the average wait for a liver transplant for people ages 50 to 64 is 417 days, as of Wednesday, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Holm was 50 when Beaver was killed.
Janes said the state Department of Corrections has accommodated people with “extensive” health problems, including those awaiting transplants. “We try to function case by case. We do the best we can do to get them the health care they need, and to protect the public,” she said.
Specialists are brought in to treat some inmates; others are sent out to treatment, including to Missoula three times weekly for dialysis, she said.
Department of Corrections spokesman Bob Anez said that in the past five years, the department has averaged 14,934 cases per year of people requiring outside medical care. In fiscal year 2012, the cost of such care totaled $7.8 million, he said – a 23 percent increase from the previous year.
Deschamps said such costs play into the dilemma surrounding Holm.
If the Supreme Court reverses Holm’s conviction, a retrial might be dependent upon Holm’s medical condition. And if the Supreme Court affirms the lower court decision, “I’m going to have to take a hard look at what to do,” the judge said. “I’m not too eager with saddling the taxpayers of Montana with some guy who needs a liver transplant and heart surgery.”
Teesha Beaver said she plans a social media campaign to petition Deschamps to order Holm to begin serving his sentence immediately.
“I’m going to sit down in front of a computer and I’m going to write out what it’s been like for my family and me these last two years, with the pain of losing my brother,” she said.
“A nightmare,” she described that time – especially the 14 months that Holm has remained free following his sentence.
“He gets to spend time with his sister,” she said of Holm’s stay in Minneapolis, “while my brother is six feet under in a box and we will never get to spend another moment with him.”
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CopsAndCourts.