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Woman With Cancer Jailed For 10 Months After Stealing $109-Worth Of Groceries

A cancer patient has just been handed a 10-month prison sentence for petty theft, a decision which both the woman's family and the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania are demanding the judge reconsider.

It's a case that has become a lightning rod.

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As The New York Times reported, 36-year-old Ashley Menser of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, was recently sentenced to at least 10 months in prison for stealing about $100 worth of groceries back in 2018.

Now, since Menser is unable to receive the cancer treatment she so desperately needs, Lietuenant Governor John Fetterman is intervening.

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This all began back in September 2018 when the Pennsylvania native stole $109.63 in groceries from Weis Markets in Lebanon County.

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At this point in her life, Menser had already been diagnosed with cervical cancer, but was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer shortly after her arrest.

The third-degree felony wasn't her first run-in with the law — she had received other minor drug and theft crimes, which, when taken into consideration at her January 2020 hearing, saw her receive a sentence typical for someone with her criminal history.

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Her family had been so confident Menser would be allowed to leave the courtroom that day that they booked her a doctor's appointment for that afternoon.

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In fact, they were expecting to schedule a hysterectomy for Menser at that very appointment. As Lebanon County Daily News reported, a note from Menser's own doctor was presented at the hearing, insisting that this procedure was crucial in order to save the patient's life.

As the note read, "If she does not receive treatment, her disease will progress, and she will inevitably succumb to her disease."

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As well as detailing Menser's deteriorating condition, her legal team requested she be sentenced to house arrest so she could undergo the potentially life-saving operation.

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However, Judge Samuel A. Kline ultimately sentenced Ms. Menser to up to 10 months in a state prison.

The New York Times obtained a copy of the sentencing order which states that "in light of the defendant’s apparent possible physical conditions,” she should be promptly moved to a state facility "that has adequate medical treatment for her issues."

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Menser's mom, Stephanie Bashore, said the family is "shocked" by the sentence that was handed down to her daughter.

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"She's just sitting there, all upset because she thinks she's going to die in jail," Bashore told Lebanon County Daily News, adding that while Menser is more than willing to serve her time, she just wants to be able to have her surgery and recuperate at home first.

"I really need her released," Bashore said.

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Menser's lawyer, Scott Freeman, said they are filing a motion to appeal and expect a hearing to take place next week.

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In the meantime, however, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has learned of the patient's recent sentencing and has spoken out against Judge Kline's decision, which he said was overly harsh.

"In what universe do you deserve to be sent to prison for 10 months for stealing $110 worth of groceries?" he implored to The New York Times.

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On Friday, Fetterman tweeted his shock at Menser's prospective jail time and included a note she had written about the pain she is currently in behind bars.

In the note, which was originally obtained by PA Post, Menser writes that she needs her surgery, adding that she is "very sick and weak" and in pain.

Her parents have said that in the week since she was taken into custody, their daughter has not received the treatment she needs.

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In that same tweet, Fetterman even offered to pay the $109.63 that Menser stole from the grocery store in 2018.

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He said he hopes he can convince company executives at the grocery chain, Weis Markets, to publicly back a reconsideration of Menser's 10-month sentence.

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"I know they don’t want this. Nobody wants this," Fetterman said. "My hope is to get them on board and say, 'This has gone far enough.'"

He continued, "If there is no victim, why carry this out? Why are we arguing over whether a woman with cancer should be denied the ability to see her doctor?"

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Following Fetterman's comments, the district attorney weighed in with a statement.

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Noting that the office does "not often respond to media articles or comments criticizing a defendant's sentence," Pier Hess Graf replied to Fetterman's criticism, saying that "He failed to mention in any of his tweets, however, the extensive record of the defendant, her drug abuse, or the fact that her sentencing ranges — as set forth by the legislature — call for jail time."

The judge in Menser's case has declined to comment.

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Fetterman stands by his criticism, however.

The Lieutenant Governor told WPMT that he didn't intend to get into a "shoving match" with Graf, but hoped his office would "air [sic] on the side of compassion and allow this woman to see her doctor."

"Let this woman visit with her oncologist and litigate the rest of that," he said. "Suggesting that this woman be allowed to visit with her oncologist shouldn't be a controversial take."

h/t: The New York Times, Lebanon County Daily News, PA Post, Fox43

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