By Kelly Flaherty
The Recorder, November 3, 1998
A prisoner with AIDS who agreed to plead no contest to murder in order to get medical care was sentenced to 18 years and eight months in prison Monday.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakahara ordered Benjamin Legree to begin serving time for second-degree murder on Nov. 30. He had been released to a hospice 18 months ago after doctors gave him only a few months to live.
Legree, who had expected to live out his life in an AIDS hospice, came to regret his murder plea when prosecutors said his health had improved enough for him to go to jail. Legree argued that he wouldn't have pleaded to murder if he hadn't needed the specialized care a hospice could provide.
"No one expected him to live, especially the defense' said Deputy District Attorney Eric Von Geldern, who prosecuted the case.
Nakahara denied Assistant Public Defender Kimberly Kupferer's bid to keep Legree at a hospice pending the outcome of an appeal. An earlier motion to withdraw the plea was denied last month by Superior Court Judge Marshall Whiteley.
Kupferer said she plans to appeal Whiteley's decision.
Nakahara said he will recommend that Legree be housed at Vacaville state prison, which provides hospice care for prisoners with AIDS. He also agreed to expedite Legree's time at San Quentin State Prison, where he will be processed, and to revisit the case if Legree's medical care suffers.
Doctors had testified that a lapse in Legree's complex drug regimen could prove fatal.
Legree pleaded no contest to charges that he shot Thomas Jenkins at an Oakland welfare office in 1996. He later tried to withdraw the plea in order to get into a hospice.