1965 Prison Escapee Is Returned to Maryland

Willie Parker in the Sampson County, N.C., jail in February.
Willie Parker in the Sampson County, N.C., jail in February. "I haven't been running from anybody," he said. (By Paul Woolverton -- Fayetteville Observer Via Associated Press)
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By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Since he was arrested on a fugitive warrant in February, Willie Parker had been offering to return to Maryland to face whatever fate he must for escaping from an Eastern Shore prison 43 years ago.

Parker, 81, the state's oldest fugitive, got his wish last week when he was extradited from a jail in North Carolina to the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center in Baltimore. He is being held pending a parole hearing that will determine whether he returns to prison, officials said.

In an interview last month, Parker said he is eager to be heard.

"I'm an old man. I haven't hurt anybody, and I haven't been running from anybody," he said. "Maryland said they let me go, and I went on with my life. I believe I can make the people understand that."

The journey that landed Parker in the Baltimore holding facility began in October 1965, when he walked away from a prison camp on the Eastern Shore. He had been sent there a year earlier after his parole for a 1953 conviction for armed robbery was revoked because he associated with men who were growing marijuana.

He served about a year on the parole violation before he escaped. He lived in the New York area, Chicago and Seattle, where he served one year in prison in the late 1960s in connection with a robbery. A few years later, he moved to North Carolina, where he had been living openly, using his real name, Social Security number and other identifying information.

He was arrested Feb. 20 after Maryland officials traced him by his driver's license number, authorities said.

After his latest arrest, Parker said he was told by a judge in Washington state in 1969 that Maryland had "released him" from his obligation in the 1953 robbery.

"I have said all along I wanted to go back to Maryland to get this whole thing settled. I offered to drive back up there myself to get it handled, but they said I couldn't go until Maryland came down here to get me. I wish they would hurry up," Parker said last month.

Andrew Jackson, who represented Parker after his arrest in North Carolina, criticized the handling of the case. Maryland's delay in extraditing Parker forced North Carolina to house him at significant taxpayer expense, not to mention the time authorities there spent on the case, Jackson said.

Parker is partially paralyzed from a stroke and suffers from high blood pressure and several other serious illnesses. "He wasn't a flight risk," Jackson said. "I think some people got a little excited down here because this is the first extradition they've worked on."

Maryland corrections department spokesman Rick Binetti said Parker is one of about 180 absconders in cases dating to the 1940s who are being sought as part of a recent effort to close cases. So far, Parker is the only one to be extradited; the other escapees whom authorities have located were either dead or living in Maryland. The officials could not say how many of the cases have been closed or why no one looked for Parker for more than 30 years.

David R. Blumberg, chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, said that at the time Parker escaped, he had served at least a quarter of his original sentence, which would make him eligible for parole under the guidelines at that time. Offenders now must serve 50 percent of their prison time before they are eligible for parole, he said.

The hearing officer whom Parker will face can make one of four recommendations to a parole commissioner: immediate release; delayed release after certain contingencies are met; denial of parole and return to prison; or a rehearing. If the commissioner concurs with the hearing officer's recommendation, the decision becomes final. If the commissioner disagrees, Parker will face a hearing with two members of the 10-member commission.

If he is released, Parker will face the same restrictions as other parolees. If he wants to return to North Carolina, the commission would have to ask that state to supervise him, Blumberg said.

Binetti said his agency will seek to have Parker charged criminally with escape, which could bring a conviction and significant prison time. Binetti said the department is not looking to make Parker an example.

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