Ailing 81-Year-Old Fugitive Nabbed 43 Years After Prison Escape

Eighty-one-year-old Willie Parker has had trouble getting around since suffering a stroke, and his right arm curls inward as correctional officers help him move about the Sampson County jail.

But he's made the most of his time there since his arrest last week, 43 years after walking away from a prison work detail in Maryland.

"They call me 'Pops,"' Parker said of his fellow inmates, adding that he advises the younger men to "leave other people's stuff alone. When you come in this world, you didn't come to stay. You came to visit. This is not your home."

The hobbled old man was finally tracked down as part of Maryland's effort to clear more than 80 outstanding warrants, and his arrest has many wondering if it was worth the effort.

Parker's lawyer, Andrew Jackson, said Wednesday that he hopes to get Parker released on bail this week. Jackson said Parker should be allowed to go home until Maryland decides what action it wants to take.

"I can tell you he's in pretty bad health," Capt. Sylvester Wilson, who works at the jail, said Tuesday.

"He just about fell down yesterday when I was getting him in and out. So, his health is not at all good, to be honest with you on that one."

Parker served about 10 years of a 40-year sentence for robbery with a deadly weapon, decided that was enough and left the Eastern Correctional Camp in Maryland.

He was arrested Feb. 20 in Clinton, a farming community south of Raleigh, where he was receiving part-time home health care services. Maryland authorities traced him there after discovering during a review of old cases that he had a North Carolina driver's license, Maryland corrections officials said.

He had been arrested several times under different identities in places around the country, but he had lived a quiet life recently. Parker, who said he thought no one was looking for him anymore, was in bed when a deputy U.S. marshal leading two others arrived to arrest him.

"The first thing he said was, 'You owe Maryland 29 years,"' Parker said during an interview at the county jail.

Brandon Taylor, the deputy U.S. marshal who headed up the team, said a home health care nurse was with Parker when the marshals arrived and helped him get dressed.

"Once we got his jacket and his hat and pants and shoes on and got his medication together, we walked him out. He was pretty slow. He's no spring chicken," Taylor said.

"I didn't cuff him. There were three of us there. I wasn't too worried about him taking off."

Parker, who also served time in Washington state, said he was told during that sentence that Maryland had dropped its detainer on him, and he went back to using his real name once he was released. Parker said he later lived in New York, where he worked for the city collecting money from parking meters. He said he was fingerprinted and passed a background check for that job.

"It's a damn big mistake," Parker said. "I want to get this stuff off of me."

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group that researches criminal justice policy, said Maryland officials could have decided it wasn't worth the time or taxpayer money to extradite Parker.

"Just because you can prosecute someone or can execute a warrant, it doesn't always mean it's the right thing to do," Mauer said.

Letting sleeping dogs lie "sounds good, but it's not that clear cut," said Sgt. Arthur Betts, a Maryland State Police spokesman.

"A warrant is a warrant, you understand. You have to follow the proper procedures when somebody is wanted," Betts said.

LaWanda Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute, also questioned the arrest, saying the cost of extraditing Parker will far exceed any public safety benefit.

"They should save their prison beds for people who pose a threat to society," Johnson said.