William Garrison, 60, had the chance to be paroled in February before Michigan had any reported cases of the virus but refused, holding out for full release without parole supervision in September.
He changed his mind after the virus hit the state and was due to be paroled in early May, according to The Detroit Free Press. He died while waiting to see if his parole would be challenged.
He began serving a life sentence when he was 16 for a shooting a man during a robbery in 1976. His sentence was commuted to 40 years in January.
“He was trying to get free,” his sister, Yolanda Peterson, said, adding that he shouldn’t have died that way after “surviving” 44 years in prison.
Garrison called the murder “senseless” and a “tragedy” in court last year, according to his lawyer, and his sister said he has repeatedly expressed regret for what he did.
She said she had prepared a bedroom for her brother at her place and was planning his 61st birthday in May.
Staff performed CPR on Garrison on April 13 after his cellmate found him unable to breathe. He was pronounced dead at the hospital and a post-mortem confirmed he had died of coronavirus.
Prison officials said he hadn’t told anyone he was feeling unwell.
Peterson said he was illiterate when he went into prison because he was often out of school due to tuberculosis hospitalizations and taught himself to read during his incarceration.
“He was a zealous advocate for himself and for other incarcerated persons. He often helped other individuals with their legal matters,” his attorney, Becky Hahn, who helped Garrison get the reduced sentence, said.
Peterson said he had a lung removed as a baby and knew he was vulnerable to coronavirus, The Free Press reported.
It was “unfortunate all the way around,” Macomb Correctional Facility spokesman Chris Gautz said.
Garrison is one of at least 17 Michigan prisoners who have died of coronavirus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.