Man convicted of killing couple seeks compassionate release from prison amid COVID-19 pandemic

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Nearly 20 years after a young couple was kidnapped, robbed and killed, the man who pled guilty in their killing is seeking release from federal prison.

The incident on June 9, 2000, is still a night Kellie Surdis remembers well. Her brother, Jason Burgeson and his girlfriend, Amy Shute, were only around 20 years old when they were killed.

"He had them kneel down, he blindfolded both of them, they were crying, and they were saying, 'You don't have to kill us. You don't have to kill us,'" Surdis recalled what was said during the testimony.

Gregory Floyd pled guilty to carjacking resulting in death and was sentenced to life in prison without parole back in 2001.

He's serving his time in the Butner Federal Medical Center outside Raleigh, however, Surdis got a letter from the prison last week notifying her that Floyd was seeking a release.

"This is just utter devastation for our family and the family of the Shute's," she said. "We have just tried to kind of make a life even though we've been faced with this insurmountable loss."

Floyd's seeking what's called a compassionate release.

The law allows inmates to ask the court and prisons to reduce or modify their sentences in "particularly extraordinary or compelling circumstances," usually it allows elderly or inmates with severe medical conditions to go home.

While the letter Surdis received didn't specify COVID-19 concerns, the ABC 11 Investigative team found since April, 20 motions labeled 'compassionate release' have been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Many of the motions cited COVID-19. During the same time last year, court records show only one compassionate release motion was filed.

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Locally, the true number of inmates requesting compassionate release is likely much higher as inmates don't have to file a motion with the court.

Inmates can also try to request release from prison administrators, but this process is often time-consuming.

"You've got a pandemic that's running through the prison, you don't always have 70 days to wait, especially when someone has high-risk conditions like respiratory illness," explained Lynne Reid, a defense attorney working with inmates at Butner and across the country to file compassionate release motions.

Ten inmates have died, and nearly 400 others have tested positive across the four Butner facilities, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Nationwide, 64 federal inmates have died, and more than 5,000 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.

Butner's low and medium facilities rank top in the country for inmate deaths and cases.

RELATED: Former Butner prison inmate describes life inside a coronavirus hot zone

Compassionate release and home confinement have always been a tool for prisons to manage population, but they are increasing during the pandemic.

"These guys are scared," Reid said of Butner prisoners she's spoken with.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons in April to maximize home confinement to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The CARES Act also expands criteria for eligibility for home confinement. Since then, home confinement has increased by 119 percent with more than 3,300 sentences modified, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Since 2018, 412 inmates have been granted compassionate release /reduction in sentences, however, this doesn't include any releases granted during the pandemic.

"These prisoners have violated laws, but do they not have the right to protect themselves from a disease that is potentially deadly? They're forced to try to protect themselves because the prison is not doing that job, they can't do the job," Reid said.



An inmate's charges and sentences don't disqualify them from seeking compassionate release, which means even Floyd who's serving a life sentence for a killing can be considered.

Reid explained those factors are considered but inmates mainly have to prove they have an underlying health condition and they aren't a danger to the community.

Surdis said she had just days to mail her comments to the prison be considered during the decision for Floyd.

"And he said, 'I felt nothing, and I just pulled the trigger,' and I think that he deserves the same lack of compassion now," Surdis said recalling what Floyd said at trial.

She said she doesn't know what Floyd's condition is, but he has been in the Butner Medical Facility since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Butner Medical Facility did not return the ABC 11 Investigative team's call. The Federal Bureau of Prisons would not release any information on Floyd's situation or updates on his request for release.

"That night, June 9 of 2000, when Gregory Floyd pulled that trigger, he murdered Jason and Amy, but he also gave our family a life sentence that we cannot escape because our loved ones will never come back," Surdis said.

As cases continue to rise in prisons across the country, courts are being turned to more and more to balance justice with health.

"Someone is going to have to decide how much is too much and how much risk is too much and whether or not prisoners are entitled to live while they serve out their sentences," Reid said.
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