Ashley Menser cancer patient sentenced to 10 months minimum jail for stealing $110 worth of groceries despite her being in advanced stage of her illness and needing urgent care.
America’s judicial system at crises? Disconcert has come to the fore after a Pennsylvania woman with advanced-stage ovarian cancer was sentenced to at least 10 months behind bars for stealing nearly $110 worth of groceries.
Ashley Menser, 36, was sentenced last week by Lebanon County Judge Samuel A. Kline to 10 months to 7 years in jail — after pleading guilty to shoplifting $109.63 worth of merchandise from a Weis Markets in 2018, the Patriot-News reported.
Menser according to trial documents stole makeup, hair dye, a candle and a ‘Super Skinny Serum’ product. Adding to her woes, the woman who had a history of drug abuse was convicted of theft in 2017 along with drug possession and theft in early 2018. Menser also pled guilty to DUI and other traffic violations.
On Jan. 22, Menser was in court for sentencing, hopeful that the fact she was being treated for ovarian and cervical cancer would persuade the judge to delay or defer sentencing.
Menser and her family were so confident she would be allowed to leave the courtroom that they had scheduled an oncology appointment for later in the day where they expected Menser to be scheduled for a hysterectomy to remove the cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes, Pennlive reports.
Instead of being set free – and deal with the crises of cancer treatment, Menser was instead sentenced 10 months to 7 years in jail.
Crime & punishment: What is the role of law?
Menser had been diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and was being actively treated. Medical records also revealed the afflicted woman having a history of drug abuse and post traumatic stress disorder, which she was taking medication for.
Prior to Jan. 22, Menser’s parents met with a doctor who explained to them that without treatment, Menser likely would be dead within a month.
The seemingly draconian sentencing didn’t sit well with many, leading to an avalanche of social media comments.
In a Twitter thread, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman urged Kline to ‘err on the side of mercy’ — arguing that Menser had an oncology appointment on the same day as her sentencing.
‘Release her immediately and allow the medical evaluation that was scheduled at @PennStHershey on the 22nd,’ he wrote. ‘I’ll personally deliver a check to the @WeisMarkets today she shoplifted from for $110.’
‘Simply let her doctor evaluate her condition and that be the basis for moving forward,’ he continued. ‘As draconian it is to imprison someone for nearly 10 months over shoplifting $109, that’s a different discussion. It’s not controversial to allow an immediate unbiased medical evaluation determine the just path forward.’
CANCER PATIENT STOLE GROCERIES worth $109.63 and was sentenced to 10 months. NY Times reports #Pennsylvania #JudgeSamuelKline could not overlook past minor offenses. He sent #AshleyMenser to jail with advanced #cancer. Judge Kline, have you no compassion?https://t.co/8s5ltrby3a pic.twitter.com/xQLHE8FUyn
— Michael Austin (@MichaelAustinLA) February 2, 2020
A case for compassion- but denied on legal grounds?
Standing his ground, Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf cited the defendant’s ‘prior extensive criminal history.’ In a statement, Graf also mentioned the defendant’s drug abuse, as well as the fact that sentencing ranges — as set forth by the legislature — call for jail time,” Graf wrote.
Graf argued that Menser had pleaded ‘open,’ meaning that the court can decide the sentence it deems appropriate.
Menser’s attorneys have requested house arrest so she could continue to receive medical treatment. Her parents argued that corrections staff have neglected the woman’s treatment in the week she’s been behind bars.
But Graf pointed to a 2019 document submitted by Menser’s own attorney, indicating that she had refused treatment at some point.
‘The court rejected the notion of house arrest given the defendant’s extensive prior criminal record and the circumstance of the current offense,’ the district attorney wrote according to WPMT-TV.
Acknowledging his tweets stirred up emotions, the Lt. Governor said, ‘I’m not going to get into a shoving match with the district attorney,’ Adding, ‘I am just suggesting that they [err] on the side of compassion and allow this woman to see her doctor.’
‘This is not public enemy number one. This is not Hannibal [Lecter] that they have to, you know, wheel out in a catcher’s mask and in a gurney,’ the lieutenant governor added, referring to the ‘Silence of the Lambs’ antagonist. ‘This is an addict.’
It was not immediately clear whether Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf would use his pardon power to clear Menser.
Cancer leading cause of death of inmates:
In 2016, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 22 percent of inmate deaths were cancer-related, but it’s unclear how many of those were pre-existing illnesses and not developed while in custody. In Pennsylvania, cancer is a leading cause of death for state prisoners -particularly as inmates age.
Of note, all prisoners are constitutionally guaranteed health care – including cancer treatment – by being wards of the state. That though hasn’t tempered Menser’s family concerns that their daughter may now end up dying inside, locked up and forced to abide by stringent access to medical facilities and attention.
A motion has since been filed for reconsideration and modification of Menser’s sentence.
A hearing has not yet been scheduled but is expected to happen within the next seven days WPMT-TV reports.