Friday, May 22, 2009

Will the Real Susan LeFevre Please Stand Up

by Donna Pendergast

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.


FleaStiff said...

I see no need for vindictiveness. She rehabilitated herself in a far better fashion than if she had served her sentence and taken classes in prison. Even as an SUV-driving soccer mom, she provided a greater contribution to society than the cost of keeping her prison for even a brief period of time. Her original conviction was due to her ignorance and her trusting bad advice from a lawyer.
Would the vast majority of prisoners lead admirable lives if let out? I don't know. This one led an admirable life after she escaped.
I see little wrong with letting her get on with her life. Her legal fees and the spending by media personnel have pumped more money into the local economy than her incarceration ever cost the state.
Frankly, I'd have never had her arrested. Just have the governor issue a pardon and mail it to her so she could breathe a sigh of relief. Those breakfasts she fixed for the high-tax bracket husband provided the state with income. The children she raised to be law abiding saved the state alot of money by not turning out to be delinquents. Why the vindictiveness of an arrest in the first place. Most of the prisoners who get out re-offend. Why go after those who lead exemplary lives? The state can't even handle those on probation who lead terrible lives when they get out.

Leah said...

I agree with Fleastiff. She shouldn't have got a 10 to 20 year sentence in the first place. It's all water under the bridge now.

Cheryl said...

Water under the bridge? Bet you wouldn't be saying that had she been selling herion to one of your children.

Yes she has lead a productive life, managed to rehabilitate herself and saved the tax payers X amount of money, but why should she get out of serving her original sentence? Does any Average Joe who escapes from prison only have to assume another identity, lie to everyone around him and lead a productive life in order to get their sentence reduced or dropped?

I think not.

cheryl said...

"would the vast majority of prisoners lead admirable lives if let out? I don't know." Bwahahahaha! Are you serious?

I know that there are innocent people in prison (a vast minority) and I am with that cause all the way.

This woman was LIVING A LIE. I see nothing admirable about that.

FleaStiff said...

The State was living a lie when the judge gave her such a harsh sentence.
The state keeps yapping to prisoners about rehabilitation. Well here is an example of rehabilitation and the first thing they did was put her back into a cell. Good example! Unfortunately its one that you would agree with too. Look at all those who do get out of prison and sell heroin to kids. Is the state going after those with such alacrity and enthusiasm? Arrest, extradition, hearings, cells, transport... what a waste of time and money. Her lifestyle proves she did not belong in prison. I wonder how many of those cops involved in putting her back in a cell should have been out pounding a beat somewhere.

cheryl said...

Her lifestyle proved she was afraid of going back to the prison she escaped from. She should have served her sentence, like most law breakers do, and then proved what a wonderful person she is.

Soobs said...

Let her out because she led a "crime-free" life after her escape? What about the 11 infractions she incurred while back in custody, because "she didn't want to be there??" If that isn't behavior indicative of what she's really like, then I don't know what is.

The judge who transferred the case because he didn't want to make a decision, shouldn't be on the bench. And the Michigan Parole Board proved once again, why they suck.