Chargualaf freed from federal prison after contracting COVID-19

CHARGUALAF: Honofre Chargualaf was initially sentenced to 44 years in prison on charges of unlawful transportation of a machine gun, possession of a machine gun, possession of a firearm by a fugitive, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and unlawful use or carrying of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. Image via Freedom for Honofre Chargualaf Facebook page

Fifty-one-year-old Honofre Chargualaf is a free man.

He spent the past 25 years of his life in federal prison and was being held at a facility in Lompoc, California, where he tested positive for COVID-19.

Chargualaf had another six years and six months in the Bureau of Prisons before he would have been released.

"He has not been protected under the care and custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons," said District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, during a virtual hearing held Wednesday to discuss Chargualaf's emergency motion for compassionate release. Additionally, he suffers from Hepatitis C and was allegedly not getting treatment.

It was said in court that Chargualaf contracted the virus on May 7, and he told the court that he hasn't been retested since.

He also said isolation in prison is "impossible."

'A potential death sentence'

Chargualaf was being held in a cell with four others who also contracted the virus and don't frequently wear protective masks.

"The guy next to me in the next bunk is about 2 feet away from where I lay," said Chargualaf.

Defense attorney Leilani Lujan agreed with her client's description of the facility as a "petri dish."

"He really is unable to self-care in the prison. As he described, Lompoc is a petri dish. There are four people in his cell including himself. There are inadequate personal protective equipment except for mask. There are no hand sanitizers as they are listed as contraband. There is no frequent cleaning due to lack of cleaning products. He has requested for treatment twice but has received none. He is breathing recirculated air in the prison," said Lujan, an assistant federal public defender. "It's a potential death sentence."

The U.S. Probation Office supported his release, despite Assistant U.S. Attorney Rosetta San Nicolas expressing the government's opposition.

San Nicolas told the court that the Bureau of Prisons had already denied his request.

"The court is concerned that if I were to keep this defendant in prison, he could eventually die or be a victim of severe health complications. ... This court finds that there are extraordinary conditions to reduce your sentence to time served. You are released today," Tydingco-Gatewood said.

Chargualaf thanked the court for "making the right decision."

Emotional testimony

He had given emotional testimony prior to the judge making her announcement.

"One day I would at least like to have my freedom back," said Chargualaf. "It's been a long time. It's been a long road. I came a long way and grew up. I am a grandfather now. I would only like to spend the rest of my time with my family. I don't think I can keep doing this forever. It's in the court's hands. I just hope that whatever the court decides ... it's fair and just. I think the time I spent in prison should reflect my crimes, the crimes that I've committed. I was wrong."

His family also gave testimony and shared how they are ready to have a relationship with their father outside of prison visitations.

Chargualaf was placed on five years' supervised release and will be living with family in California.

Chargualaf was convicted in 1995 on drug and weapons charges and initially sentenced to 44 years in prison. It was reduced by about a decade following a hearing held in federal court on Guam in 2019. Chargualaf at that time told the court that his past conduct was "most regrettable" and that he has had to sacrifice 25 years of his life for "nonviolent offenses."

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