The past caught up to Susan LeFevre last year. On April 24, 2008, thirty-two years of freedom came to an abrupt end when federal authorities, acting on an anonymous tip, arrested LeFevre outside her suburban San Diego home and dragged her away from her life of prestige and privilege. She had been running and hiding from the law since escaping from a Michigan women's prison in 1976.
Back to the Beginning
Susan LeFevre was 19 years old when she was arrested in Saginaw, Michigan in 1974 for selling drugs to an undercover police officer during a heroin sting. Prosecutors dropped a charge of Conspiracy to Deliver Heroin as a part of a plea agreement and LeFevre was sentenced to a 10-to 20-year prison sentence on the drug charge. She began to serve her sentence in a minimum security womens' prison in Michigan on February 25, 1975. She completed nearly one year of that sentence before walking away from the prison and making her getaway in her grandfather's waiting vehicle while on her way to a work assignment on February 2, 1976.
LeFevre moved to California shortly thereafter and began a new life. She adopted her middle name Marie as her name and began using the last name of Day. She also began using the social security number of an individual who died in 1981, a number which LeFevre claims to have made up.
By all accounts LeFevre led a model life in California. In 1985, she married a waste management executive, Alan Walsh, and led a privileged life as Marie Walsh while raising three children in Del Mar, California, an affluent suburb of San Diego. Alan Walsh would later claim that he and his children knew nothing of LeFevre's criminal past and were blindsided by her arrest. After her arrest, LeFevre was taken into custody and eventually extradited to Michigan to serve the remainder of her sentence on the drug charge.
News of the arrest garnered international attention. People were fascinated with the story of the one-time escaped drug dealer—now a mother of three—who was outed, arrested, and carried away from her affluent lifestyle. The media hype was immediate. TV shows wanted interviews, Web sites calling for her release sprang up and talk of book rights swirled in the air.
A Legal Dilemma
After arriving in Michigan, LeFevre hired two well-known attorneys. One lawyer was charged with the task of fighting the original drug charge sentence. The other attorney was hired to defend the charge of escape from prison. He contended that LeFevre escaped because she feared for her safety.
While her attorneys were fighting her legal battles, LeFevre was fighting battles of her own. She racked up 11 misconduct tickets in prison, mostly for disobeying orders from guards and for arguing with another inmate. She also was found responsible of hiding medication under her mattress rather than taking it out in the hospital area.
After a series of legal machinations and hearings, LeFevre received two years probation for her escape. The drug charge would prove more difficult. LeFevre's attorney had to convince a Circuit Court Judge that the original judge abused his discretion by imposing an excessive sentence of 10-to-20 years for a first-time offender. In an unusual move, the judge transferred the case to the Michigan Parole Board without making a decision. The Parole Board unanimously voted to release LeFevre citing her thirty-two years as a model citizen. LeFevre was released this past Tuesday into the waiting arms of family and friends to return home to Califonia.
Reaction to LeFevre's release has been mixed. Supporters say that she deserves a second chance and that her model life as a productive citizen reflects the rehabilitation that the corrections system aspires to have prisoners emulate. They argue that she is not a menace to society and that it would be counterproductive to waste taxpayer dollars on a non-violent offender for an incident that occurred over three decades ago. They ask why Michigan should spend $33,000 a year on an individual who has paid her debt to society.
An equally vocal faction asks what sets LeFevre apart for special treatment. They argue that the only reason that LeFevre was released is because she was wealthy and Caucasian and cite similarly situated individuals who did not receive the same deference that LeFevre did. They feel that LeFevre "beat the system" by escaping and ask whether the passage of thirty-two years excuses the behavior. They also worry about the precedent that this release sets. The Saginaw County Prosecutor Michael Thomas wrote this statement in a court filing: "What does that say to the 51,000 people serving a sentence in the state? You don't have to serve a sentence if you escape?"
John Cordell of the Michigan Department of Corrections has stated, "She effectively did what we want our offenders to do—live a crime-free life after they leave us. . . . Of course, she did commit a crime in order to live that crime-free life."
Hence lies the dilemma.
Statements made in this post are my own and are not intended to reflect the views, opinions, or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.Tweet