COLUMBUS, Ohio – The first time Frank Freshwaters walked away from an Ohio prison facility, he did so without permission. This time will be different.
Ohio's parole board decided Thursday that the man authorities characterized as a twice-caught, 55-year fugitive should be released on or after April 24, the week after his 80th birthday. Exactly where Freshwaters will go hasn't been settled — a son in West Virginia would welcome him, as would a friend in Florida — but the conditions for his release include five years of supervision.
Relieved supporters, including two of his sons and his attorney, hugged and wiped away tears at the board's announcement after the panel heard from both sides in an hourslong meeting.
Freshwaters wasn't there; he remained at a southeast Ohio prison, awaiting word on the outcome.
The Akron man was reportedly speeding when he fatally struck 24-year-old Eugene Flynt in 1957. He was imprisoned at the Ohio State Reformatory after violating his probation in the manslaughter case, and he disappeared from a Sandusky prison camp months later in 1959.
Freshwaters' attorney, Gordon Beggs, told the board that Freshwaters had worried about being sent back to the Reformatory and had lived a clean life ever since, adopting a new name as he sought a fresh start.
"The violations occurred 60 years ago," Beggs said. "They do not reflect the man Mr. Freshwaters is today."
Investigators who tracked down the 79-year-old widower last May said he was living off Social Security benefits under the name William Harold Cox at a weathered trailer in rural Brevard County, Florida.
Freshwaters had been using the Cox name since the 1970s. Why he wasn't located by authorities for so long is a mystery.
He was found once before, in 1975 in St. Albans, West Virginia, but its then-governor concluded Freshwaters had a "flawless, 16-year residency" there and refused to extradite him to Ohio, saying he didn't believe he was a danger to society.
The Summit County prosecutor's office acknowledged the health and family factors raised in support of Freshwaters' release but argued against parole, saying he had changed his name to hide, never paid the restitution ordered for his victim's family and continued to avoid accountability.
"I can't dispute that he's in ill health. I can't dispute that he has a family — in spite of all the things he's done — who love him dearly, and friends who love him. But this isn't about that," said Brad Gessner, the prosecutor's chief counsel. "It's about the justice that victims are entitled to."
Flynt's son, Richard, took a softer tone, telling board members that he didn't believe Freshwaters had paid for what happened but that holding him more accountable was up to them.
Freshwaters' family said he wasn't hiding. His son Jim Cox told the board his father has been haunted by the accident. Another son, Jeff Lloyd, extended his sympathies to the victim's family in his comments to the board.
"I'd like to apologize to Mr. Flynt for the loss of his father because I can relate," said Lloyd, who hadn't known Freshwaters but connected with him because of media coverage of the case.
He said he'd apologized privately, too, when the brothers met Flynt briefly before the hearing. Lloyd said he told Flynt they were sorry about all this. Then they shook hands.