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Families of execution victims call early release request a ‘kick in the gut’

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – As the 20-year anniversary of a brutal execution-style slaying approaches, family members of the victims are now awaiting word if the admitted killer will be set free.

Kellie Burgeson-Surdis, the sister of one of the victims, said families were blindsided when they received a letter on Friday that her brother’s murderer was requesting a compassionate release from federal prison.

“Its always a sad time this time of year, but this year it is especially sad to have to be dealing with this,” Surdis said. “Twenty birthdays, 20 Christmases without him.”

Jason Berguson and Amy Shute were carjacked by five men on June 9, 2000. The couple was driven to a golf course in Johnston where Gregory Floyd shot and killed Berguson, 20, of Lakeville, and Shute, 21 of Coventry.

“The death penalty was on the table for this case, [Floyd] pled guilty to avoid the death penalty,” Surdis said. “They were on the ground, crying, blindfolded, they were begging for their life.”

The letter from the warden of the North Carolina prison that is housing Gregory Floyd said the families had until Tuesday, May 26, to respond – in writing – if they wanted to oppose the release. It did not give a reason for the request.

“I feel there were a lot of things handled inappropriately by the warden down in North Carolina,” Surdis said, adding she and her mother sent letters overnight via FedEx. “The victims … we have rights too, it’s not just the criminals.”

Scott Taylor, a spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said because of “privacy, safety and security reasons,” officials cannot disclose the nature of the compassionate release request. He said if an inmate is deemed eligible for an early release, the head of the BOP would ask the U.S. Attorney’s Office to file a motion with the federal court to reduce the sentence.

“Inmates who are found to be ineligible under agency criteria, or who are determined to be inappropriate for agency approval of a reduction in sentence, may also file a motion in their sentencing court themselves under the new authority for such under the First Step Act,” Taylor said in an email. “At all times, the decision on whether to grant such a motion – whether brought on behalf of the director of the BOP, or the inmate themselves – lies with the sentencing court. “ 

The First Step Act was signed into law by President Trump in December 2018. Since then 412 inmates have been released prior to their expiration of sentence.

In addition to the First Step Act, the Department of Justice determined last month that wardens have the authority to let some inmates who are deemed to be at high risk of contracting COVID-19 complete their sentence on home confinement. Since U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued the directive on April 3, another 3,174 inmates have been released to home confinement.

But Floyd does not appear eligible for release under the attorney general’s pandemic order because he is serving a life sentence.

For Surdis and her family, they were told the warden has 30 days to make his decision in Floyd’s case, but they don’t have a sense as to when that clock started ticking.

Taylor did not respond to a follow-up questions about the timing of Floyd’s compassionate release request.

“We were under the impression life with no eligibility for parole was exactly that,” Surdis said. “To try and get out on a compassionate release cause due to extenuating circumstances after the fact, we just felt like we got kicked in the gut.”

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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