Months after James Hill was supposed to be released from U.S. prison and reunited with his family in Canada, he died alone of COVID-19 in American immigration custody, hooked up to a ventilator and unable to speak.
The former doctor from Newmarket, Ont. was caught in a torrent of events outside his control — immigration delays, the coronavirus pandemic and irresponsible actions on the part of American officials.
“He thought he was going to be free,” Hill’s daughter Verity told HuffPost Canada from her Toronto home.
“I can’t stop thinking that he was ultimately given a death sentence. It’s injustice on top of injustice.”
Hill was released from prison in April after serving 14 years for illegally distributing Oxycontin to patients at his Louisiana family practice, but was immediately detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
With an expired American green card and Canadian passport, Hill, 72, was sent to the for-profit Farmville Detention Center in Virginia to await deportation, scheduled to fly home July 9 — three months after the transfer. HuffPost has pieced together his final months at the facility through interviews, a lawsuit, news stories and public statements.
Verity described her father as gentle and understanding, a man who was made an example of by the American justice system during former president George W. Bush’s war on drugs.
The judge and federal prosecutor in the case both said Hill liberally handed out prescriptions for addictive painkillers to his patients, the National Post reported during Hill’s sentencing in 2007.
His criminal defence lawyer, Randal Fish, argued many of Hill’s patients didn’t have health insurance or access to pain specialists and needed help. He was “stunned” at the length of Hill’s sentence.
“I’ve specialized in criminal defence law for close to 27 years now and this has to be, bar none, the most horrible, egregious miscarriage of justice I’ve seen in my life,” he...