LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After spending more than 36 years in prison and currently dying from bone cancer, Mutulu Shakur, the stepfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, is scheduled to be released from the Federal Medical Center near Lexington next month on parole.
The U.S. Parole Commission on Thursday evening ruled Shakur’s medical condition “renders you so infirm of mind and body that you are no longer physically capable of committing any Federal, State, or local crime.”
He is expected to live his remaining days in Southern California with family.
Shakur, who was once on the FBI’s ten most wanted list, evaded capture for years after his involvement in a 1981 armored truck robbery that left a guard and two police officers dead.
The 72-year-old is scheduled to be released on Dec. 16 and will be tracked be monitored by Global Positioning Systems to stay in a certain area, as determined by the U.S. Probation Office.
In addition, Shakur is not to have contact with anyone involved with a group, nicknamed “The Family,” that committed a series of bank robberies in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Since he was convicted in 1987 and sentenced to 60 years in prison, Shakur has by all accounts been a model prisoner, accepting responsibility and showing remorse for his actions while mentoring other prisoners.
Now, at 72, Shakur is dying from bone marrow cancer at the Federal Medical Center near Lexington and, in May, was given about six months to live.
His attorneys, activists, elected officials, retired law enforcement, other inmates and even former prison wardens and staffers have supported an early compassionate release so Shakur can spend his final months with family.
Shakur first came up for parole in 2016, 30 years into his sentence. He has been denied parole multiple times since, mostly recently in April.
He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions and apologized to the families of the victims.
“You cannot explain the thinking that caused me to … be a part of the process that took these men’s lives, who did nothing to me,” Shakur said at the April hearing, according to court records. “They were not directly or indirectly responsible for what I felt were my fears.”
Despite his statements and declining health and age, the parole board declined to release Shakur, ruling he had not fully accepted responsibilities for his crimes and was likely to offend again.
But after seeing Shakur again in October, the commission ruled Thursday that his “medical condition has significantly deteriorated sinc e(his) last hearing.”
This was perhaps Shakur’s last avenue to get out of prison before he died, as he was rejected as a candidate for compassionate release due to a flaw in the law.
He became perhaps the highest-profile example of how a bipartisan law passed by Congress in 2018 stops short of addressing release for older prisoners like Shakur who were convicted before federal sentencing guidelines changed, a limit that has confounded judges considering such requests.
Dozens of letters have been written on Shakur’s behalf pleading for his release, including from former wardens and high-ranking prison officials who praised him for mentoring other inmates and helping to keep peace in prisons thanks to his stature.
In addition, all the other defendants charged with Shakur have been released or died.
He would seem to be a prime candidate for compassionate release, which allows early release of an inmate under “extraordinary and compelling circumstances,” such as a terminal illness. His current scheduled release date is in 2024.
In May, Shakur’s attorneys requested he be freed under The First Step Act, an expansion of the compassionate release law, signed by former President Donald Trump in 2018 in a bipartisan effort to reduce the federal prison population while also maintaining public safety.
The amended law let inmates eligible for compassionate release apply directly to the courts themselves if they were denied by the prison warden, which was occurring frequently.
But in a ruling denying compassionate release, a New York judge wrote that while Shakur is “approaching death,” he pointed out that the First Step Act ensures that “old-law prisoners” like Shakur are not allowed the early release because their crimes were committed prior to November 1987, when sentencing guidelines changed.
In essence, the law does not apply to the oldest inmates who have spent the longest time in prison and are typically the most ill and least likely to reoffend.
Judges have expressed “puzzlement” as to why “Congress clearly expressed its desire to limit the privileges conferred by the First Step Act to offenses committed after” the sentence reform act in 1987, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles Haight in New York wrote last month.
In his ruling, Haight wrote that several judges have had to deny similar requests from the longest-serving inmates because they don’t qualify under the new law.
“Congress’s decision … may puzzle some observers, but the nation has not yet reached the stage where judges must understand and agree with everything Congress does,” wrote Haight, who, now in his 90s, was the judge who sentenced Shakur more than three decades ago
Chicago attorney Brad Thomas, who represents Shakur, said it is difficult to determine exactly how many other inmates are affected by the 1987 cutoff but estimated the number to be around 200.
He believes the law was intended to apply to all federal prisoners and there is a movement to amend the First Step Act to clarify this intent.
In the 1970s, Shakur was a political activist and a member of the Black Liberation Army. He was credited with helping bring The Lincoln Detox Center, which helped pioneer acupuncture to address drug addiction, to the Bronx’s Black community.
But, in 1981, he was part of a group that committed several bank robberies and stole $1.6 million from a Brinks armored car in New York, killing a guard and two police officers.
He was convicted of armed robbery, racketeering and conspiracy. Prosecutors did not contend that Shakur fired shots that killed anyone.
Family members of those killed in the robbery have repeatedly objected to any early release for Shakur.
“What about all the things that my father and (the other officers) didn’t get to do?” Peter Paige, son of the Brinks guard who was killed, said in a 2017 interview with Fox News. “What about all the things they didn’t get to do for 35 years?”
This story will be updated.