He agreed to serve the remaining 14 months of his original 33-month sentence, and on Thursday, he was sentenced to another two months behind bars for the escape.
But there’s a catch: Desic escaped prison in the 1990s because of “real fears,” the magistrate said, that after completing his sentence, he would be deported back to his homeland — Yugoslavia.
In the months before Desic broke out of jail, calls for autonomy were intensifying in Yugoslavia, a federation of six republics cobbled together and ruled under communism after World War II. Slovenia and Croatia seceded in June 1991, and others followed suit. The bloody Yugoslav wars had begun, including the Bosnian conflict breaking out three months before Desic broke out of prison.
Desic was worried about being forced to join the military on the conflict’s front lines or placed in detention, the Associated Press reported.
His home nation dissolved and years of brutal conflict followed, leaving more than 100,000 dead — all while he was a fugitive on the other side of the world.
Now that the conflict is over, and he’s back in jail in the 21st century — a new dilemma has arisen: What will happen to Desic, who is not an Australian citizen, after he completes his prison sentence? Defense attorney Paul McGirr told reporters that the Australian Border Force informed Desic that he would be deported upon his December 2022 release.
But where to is not clear.
“Bearing in mind he doesn’t have the same country left to go back to, being Yugoslavia,” McGirr said. “Hopefully someone with a bit of common sense looks at that.”
Because his original conviction and breakout happened so long ago, and he had committed no further crimes in the interim, the magistrate acknowledged that Desic has changed, the Associated Press reported.
Desic’s work as a local handyman earned him the community’s “love and respect,” McGirr said. The fugitive lived in constant fear of being caught, and avoided signing up for government services. McGirr said Desic even pulled his own teeth, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corp. When the pandemic put him in a bad financial situation, he resorted to sleeping on sand dunes. A public fundraising campaign raised $23,000 for his legal and housing bills.
But prosecutor Scott Williams said that the case evoked a “romantic idea” of jailbreak, and one of “Australian larrikinism,” ABC News reported, referring to an Australian term meaning a mischievous but good-hearted person. He asked for a full-time custodial sentence, not the lighter two-month sentence Desic was granted. For the charge of escaping prison, Australia has a possible 10-year maximum sentence.
The prosecutor said this was necessary to prevent other prisoners from contemplating breaking out by making clear they would be punished “no matter how long after escape when captured,” reported the AP.