Joan Little, once the victim of a sexual attack who killed in self-defense, twice a fugitive and for five years a cause celebre for protesters against sexism, racism and North Carolina justice, appeared here today to put those years behind her.
"I'm glad it's all over with. After being incarcerated for five years it really feels good to be outside," Little, 25, told a press conference.
She was paroled by North Carolina authorities Friday on condition that she stay outside North Carolina and remain employed. Jerry Paul, the attorney who defended her in all her trials, said it was also implicit in her parole two years before the end of her sentence that she keep a low profile.
Little made no recriminations against North Carolina, where she was convicted of breaking and entering and then drew international attention in 1974 when she killed a white jailer, Clarence Alligood, as he attempted to rape her. Little is black.
"I have to prove to the state of North Carolina that I'm not going to cause any trouble," she said.
Little said she will live in East Elmhurst, Queens, and work as a file clerk for the National Conference of Black Lawyers, a civil rights group in Harlem for which she worked while fighting extradition to North Carolina in 1978.
That was after her second escape from prison. The first escape took place the night Alligood attacked her. In October 1977, she fled again after having been acquitted of murder in Alligood's death, but returned to prison to finish serving a seven- to 10-year sentence for breaking and entering.
She remained a fugitive for two months before being recaptured by police after a high-speed chase through the streets of Brooklyn.
In addition to her work as a file clerk, Little said, she will apply to New York state for a cosmetician's license. She was studying cosmetology while a prisoner at the Raleigh (N.C.) Correctional Institute for women.
She said that she intends to live in New York even after the terms of her parole expire. When asked if she would ever return to North Carolina, she siad: "No, not to live."
Paul, who recently moved to New York after years of civil rights legal work in North Carolina, praised the state for letting Little go. "It's their desire to change their image," he said. Several civil rights cases, including Little's, Paul said, have made North Carolina "the Alabama and Mississippi of the 1970s."
Little did not talk about her past legal battles, but in answer to a question she said she is sure that there are other women in North Carolina jails facing the same difficulties she faced. She did not elaborate.
When fighting extradition, she was quoted as saying she would "rather die than go back to North Carolina" because she was a marked woman there for having killed a prison guard.
William Kunstler, her other principal attorney, who relayed that quote to the press, also appeared with Little today at the press conference in the Center for Constitutional Rights offices.
"This is the ending of her life as a prisoner, as a fugitive, as a cause celebre and the beginning of her life as a responsible citizen of New York," Kunstler said.
Little was asked if she had any immediate plans to celebrate her release tonight.
"Only to get some grits," she said. CAPTION: Picture, Little at press conference: "I'm glad it's all over." AP