Autistic man whose sentence is being questioned tests positive for COVID-19

Matthew Rushin was sentenced to 50 years with 40 suspended after being charged by a magistrate with attempted murder.

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In Virginia, Lavern Rushin has worked hard to get her son Matthew Rushin out of prison. She believes the Virginia Beach City Police Department and City Attorney took advantage of her son, who is autistic, to get a conviction.

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A GoFundMe, launched to raise money for legal fees, described the car accident which resulted in Rushin’s prison sentence. The campaign, started by his mother, stated in January 2019, her son drove to a local Panera Bread restaurant, also his place of work, where he mistakenly hit a vehicle.

Due to his anxiety, he left the scene, doing breathing exercises to calm down according to the landing page. He then attempted to circle back to the scene when he lost control of the vehicle, hitting another car and being struck from behind himself.

Matthew Rushin www.theGrio.com
(Image via Instagram)

“No drugs/no alcohol involved. When Matthew finally emerged from the rear of his vehicle which was his only exit option due to air bags, he was attacked by a man yelling at Matthew in a confrontational manner. The man was in Matthew’s yelling at Matthew almost pinning him to the vehicle, a bystander came over to intervene,” the GoFundMe stated.

According to The Washington Post, after the incident, Rushin was arrested and held in jail until he was sentenced on Nov. 6, 2019. The commonwealth’s attorney for Virginia Beach revealed the 21-year-old had pleaded guilty in August 2019 to two charges of malicious wounding and one charge of hit-and-run. A news release issued at the time disregarded Rushin’s autism and other physical and mental health diagnoses.

“Had this case gone to trial, the commonwealth’s evidence would have proven that on January 4, 2019, Matthew Rushin struck another moving vehicle in a parking lot . . . did not stop, and instead fled the parking lot,” read a news release according to the Post. “Rushin climbed out of his vehicle and stated that he was trying to kill himself. Investigation revealed that he was driving approximately 65 m.p.h. right before the crash and did not apply his brakes.”

The GoFundMe account clarified statements such as “I wish I was dead,” made by the accused are the result of his autism, Aspergers, ADHD, a traumatic brain injury sustained in a prior car accident, and anxiety. The family believes these words were twisted and used against him.

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As they continue to campaign for Rushin’s release, the family has issued a petition on his behalf. The website NeuroClastic a digital platform supporting autistic people by autistic people, shared more details on a webpage dedicated to #FreeMatthewRushin, According to the website, “Matthew’s legal representation did not consider his medical history or support needs when she coerced him into accepting a plea deal or what that would mean for his future”

The digital position published on Change.org has over 400,000 signatures. Now, as the pandemic continues to spike, the imprisoned population is in danger of contracting the deadly coronavirus. It is confirmed by the @Justice4MatthewRushin verified Instagram account that while behind bars, Rushin has tested positive for COVID-19.

“My hands are shaking while typing this. Sick to my stomach! Matthew has tested positive for COVID19 and has been moved to the red zone at Nottoway Correctional Facility,” his mother shared on Instagram. “I do not want my son to die in prison!”

theGrio reported last month one in every five state and federal prisoners in the United States has tested positive for the coronavirus, and in some states, more than half of prisoners have been infected. Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least 275,000 prisoners have been infected, more than 1,700 have died while in prison according to the report. Some experts, however, do not agree with the data.

“That number is a vast undercount,” said Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer at New York’s Rikers Island jail complex according to the report. “I still encounter prisons and jails where, when people get sick, not only are they not tested but they don’t receive care. So they get much sicker than need be.”

According to the Virginian-Pilot, Gov. Ralph Northam conditionally pardoned Rushin, who is expected to be released early this year. While the pardon shortened his sentence, it does not wipe out his conviction, defense attorney Miriam Airington-Fisher confirmed to the news outlet.

Once released, Rushin will be held to conditions including supervised probation for five years, mandatory mental health treatment, and undergo a substance abuse evaluation, said Alena Yarmosky, a spokesperson for the governor.

Yarmosky also informed the outlet Rushin is not allowed to possess a firearm, operate a vehicle or contact the victims or their families. In 10 years, he can petition a judge to restore his driving privileges. If he violates any of the listed terms in the next decade, he could be ordered to complete the rest of his sentence.

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