Cement Head’s last fight: He was denied parole six times — until he was about to become a Covid-19 statistic


April 14, 2021
Stat News
By Eric Boodman

During his 39 years in prison, the closest Joseph Messere ever came to walking free was when he was intubated, unconscious, and dying of Covid-19. The opportunity pinged onto his attorney’s phone just before Christmas, in a series of voicemails from the Massachusetts Parole Board. “This is Michelle Wetherbee, chief of the transitional services unit,” said one, from 12:31 p.m. on Dec. 23, 2020. She sounded like she was in a rush, swallowing syllables, garbling Messere’s name. But one thing she made very clear was that this couldn’t wait. “Can you please call me back” — she gave her number — “as soon as possible? We’d really like … your client released as soon as possible.” It was the fourth message her office had left in six days. A little over an hour later, she left another.

To attorney David Apfel, the urgency was strange. Often these sorts of arrangements took months. He’d seen it play out with this client earlier in the year. Messere was a stocky guy known to everyone as “Cement Head.” Ask his unit-mates about Joe Messere, and some might not know whom you were talking about. Everyone knew Cement Head: Cement Head the jailhouse lawyer, Cement Head of the bushy white Hulk Hogan biker mustache. He’d gotten a life sentence in 1981, for second-degree murder, and had been locked up ever since. He’d been denied parole in 1995, 1998, 2004, 2008, and 2013, and when he went before the parole board in December 2019, the decision took five months. On May 11, 2020, Cement Head got his sixth denial. True to his nickname, he asked for reconsideration, and in August, the board denied that, too.

So Apfel was taken aback to learn that Cement Head had just been granted medical parole. The decision was “based on the assessment that his death is imminent,” read one email from a prison-contracted doctor, who wanted to know whether the team should keep forcing air into his lungs through a surgical hole in the throat or start weaning him off machines. Apfel just kept thinking: What the hell are they talking about? Who submitted a petition for medical parole?

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