A prison inmate involved in a notorious Hartford prostitution ring that trafficked 14-year old girls and turned other young women into sexual slaves told a judge Wednesday he is afraid of dying in prison from coronavirus and pleaded for early release from his 30-year sentence.
Dennis Paris, now 48 years old and 11 years into his sentence, was one of 10 men and women charged in 2006 in a case that drew national attention to Hartford and the brutal trafficking of teenaged women and girls who were made virtual captives and forced into the sex trade for extended periods.
Paris ran his prostitution ring from low-rent Hartford area hotels and motels from 1999 to 2004. One of the then-young women who worked for him appeared before U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven by teleconference to argue against his release.
“This offense has terrorized me to this day,” the unidentified woman from Vermont said. “I still wake up scared in the middle of the night. Dennis Paris will always have a hold of my nightmares. My life will never go back to normal. So why should his be normal.”
Paris is one of dozens of federal prisoners who, over the last nine months, have moved in court for compassionate release from prison sentences because they have health conditions that make them susceptible to complications from coronavirus, which has struck hard in congregate settings such as prisons. Arterton is weighing Paris’s health risks against his potential for future crime and said she will issue a written opinion on release at a later date.
Paris, who since his conviction has had half his lower jaw removed due to a benign growth and now walks with a cane, complained of being in a state of physical “breakdown” since entering prison. He is obese at 5-9 and 326 pounds, is prediabetic, has bad kidneys and has high blood pressure. He told the judge in a long, handwritten memo, that every time he takes a breath at the federal prison in Otisville, N.Y. he fears it may be the one that infects and kills him.
“I have to be honest,” he wrote. “Being forced to face your mortality in this environment, under these circumstances gives a new twist to perspective. It is also humbling. The only frame of reference that I have to being so humbled was the day that I received my sentence. I remember the lump forming in my throat, my heart feeling like it was going to burst out of my chest. I remember my legs becoming so heavy that I knew I’d never be able to put one in front of the other.
“Now I find myself dealing with feelings equivalent to that day. My new, new reality is knowing that my underlying health conditions — hypertension, obesity, sleep apnea, prediabetes — put me at a higher risk not only of contracting COVID-19, but drastically increases my chances of dying from it.”
Paris, who appeared in court by teleconference from prison, told Arterton he has been rehabilitated and doesn’t want to die in prison.
“I have no interest in crime or hurting the community,” he said. “Since I came in I’ve taken every program every class. Any type of rehabilitative work, educational program available to me. Physically I’m breaking down. I’m older. I’m smarter. I was dumb when I was young. I have nothing but remorse for my victims, their families and the part I played in however messed up their lives became.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office said public safety requires that Paris complete his sentence and the prosecution suggested he has a better chance in contracting coronavirus in Hartford, where the infection rate is increasing, than in his prison, where the U.S. Bureau of Prisons on Wednesday was reporting two positive cases among inmates and another two among the staff.
Federal prosecutor Patrick Doherty told the court that Paris has a long history of convictions and imprisonment that suggests past punishment has not deterred future crime. After his release from prior state prison sentences, Doherty said Paris resumed being a pimp who beat and sexually assaulted the young women working for him.
Doherty said Paris was obese when he went into prison, at 292 pounds, and implied he may walk with a cane because he was once shot in the leg.
Doherty also scoffed at Paris’s plan to live in Hartford with a brother if he is released early. The brother also has a prior conviction for prostitution – as does the brother’s wife and former business partner, who at the time was a Connecticut State Police officer.
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