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Oregon man charged in 1978 murder contracts COVID-19 in Alaska DOC custody

Donald McQuade at his arraignment on Oct. 21, 2019.
Donald McQuade at his arraignment on Oct. 21, 2019.(Rachel McPherron // Alaska's News Source)
Published: Dec. 14, 2020 at 6:16 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Cold case murder suspect Donald McQuade is one of several defendants who have been seeking to be released on bail during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Thursday, he is also one of the more than 1,000 incarcerated people in Alaska who have contracted COVID-19 while in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

In October, 2019, a grand jury indicted McQuade on murder charges for killing Anchorage 16-year-old Shelley Connolly in 1978. The 64-year-old Oregon man was linked to the case last year through modern DNA technology; he was taken into custody in Gresham, Oregon on Aug. 30, then extradited to Alaska.

In April, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby reduced McQuade’s $1 million bail to a $10,000 cash bail, with a $50,000 unsecured bond.

McQuade had requested to be released after posting $2,500, with a greater amount of unsecured bail. He also wanted to be allowed to return to Oregon with a waiver of extradition and report to the state’s Pretrial Enforcement Division by phone once a week.

McQuade’s wife has said he has stage four liver cancer and is diabetic, placing him at risk of complications from COVID-19, if he were to contract the virus and become sick.

His attorney argued there is a concern that in the future, lockdown measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 within Department of Corrections facilities could lead to a disruption in McQuade’s ability to receive his necessary chemotherapy treatments.

In a March ruling, Alaska’s Court of Appeals released a decision stating that the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a justification for defendants to request bail review hearings, and judges may consider the unprecedented situation when considering bail proposals.

McQuade has had multiple bail hearings since then, and Judy Connolly, Shelley Connolly’s mother, has testified against his release.

During a bail hearing last week, the defense submitted a release plan Saxby found acceptable. It includes $10,000 cash bail, 24/7 electronic monitoring, house arrest at McQuade’s mother in law’s Washington home and a prepaid return airline ticket back to Alaska.

However, while McQuade previously cited a desire to avoid contracting the coronavirus in jail, the bail agreement is too late for that.

“I’ve contracted the COVID-19 since I’ve been moved from my single cell for the whole time I’ve been here,” he told the court during his telephonic bail hearing Thursday. “They brought me over to the other jail amongst a bunch of people that have the COVID and now I have it. I may be hospitalized by this afternoon.”

McQuade said because of his cancer diagnosis and his age, he is considered high risk for developing complications. He expected medical personnel would begin intravenous measures immediately after the hearing.

“I know I cannot get on an airplane right now,” he said. “For the next 14 to 15 days I will not be able to go to the airport... I have to go through the procedures of making sure my loved ones and the public are safe.”

Donald McQuade’s wife, Tracy McQuade, said she first learned about her husband’s COVID-19 diagnosis during the hearing. On Monday, she had not spoken to him in more than a week and did not know his condition or whether he was hospitalized.

The timing of the diagnosis, so close to his approved release, is frustrating, she said.

“They finally played their little games and got him approved, and now he is COVID positive. So, once again, he don’t get to come home for 14 days, if not longer,” said Tracy McQuade, adding, “If he survives this.”

When asked about the decision to move Donald McQuade, DOC spokesperson Sarah Gallagher wrote in an email, “At the time of the move, neither mod Mr. McQuade was assigned to had active cases of COVID. Additionally, this move was completed prior to the most recent general population COVID-19 case being identified. The movement of inmates within all facilities has been restricted to the greatest extent possible, but is sometimes unavoidable due to population management or separatee issues.”

According to the DOC’s online COVID-19 tracker, 1,173 general population inmates have tested positive. Nineteen people in custody of the DOC have been hospitalized due to COVID and three have died.

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