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May 2, 2008

Should Michigan be willing to forgive and forget long-ago drug crime?

Large_lefevrefamily A new drug sentencing story from Michigan sounds like the script of a Lifetime TV movie.  Here are the basics from this piece in The Saginaw News:

A southern California family is standing by the wife and mother who lived under a false name and with a colossal secret: Susan M. LeFevre escaped from a Plymouth prison 32 years ago.  But Michigan authorities are painting a different picture from LeFevre's account that her drug involvement was minor and she jumped a barbed wire fence to escape from prison out of fear for her safety.

The former Thomas Township resident, arrested at 19 for taking $600 from an undercover officer during a heroin drug sting in 1974, served about one year of a 10- to 20-year sentence for violating drug laws and conspiring to commit that crime when she walked away from the Robert Scott Correctional Facility at 21.  Her husband of 23 years, Alan Walsh, said his family was blindsided and grief-stricken by the revelation that Marie Day, the woman he fell in love with and who bore his three children, had hidden a criminal past....

LeFevre, a 1973 Arthur Hill High School graduate, received her sentence Feb. 27, 1975. On Feb. 2, 1976, she walked away from prison, saying she threw a coat over a barbed wire fence and climbed into a waiting vehicle where her grandfather and another relative were saying the rosary.  LeFevre headed for California and used a Social Security number belonging to someone who died in 1981, a number she says she made up, said Steve Jurman, the federal Marshal who arrested her.  She obtained a California driver's license using a false date of birth but didn't renew it after it expired in 1999.

Her 32 years of freedom ended April 24, when federal marshals acting on an anonymous tip from Michigan arrested her at her home in Del Mar.  Police described her home as a mansion in Carmel Valley, where she lived with her husband, two daughters and a son -- 15, 20 and 22.

"I've heard her story that she just happened to be with a person who was selling heroin," said Russ Marlan, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections. "The file we have is very different." LeFevre's crimes likely caused many and serious ripples in the criminal underworld, he said. A state trooper testified LeFevre was a ringleader of a drug-trafficking operation, Marlan said.

"She had people working for her. She was making a large profit," Marlan said.  "She wore nice clothing and rented an apartment. When she was arrested, she had $600 in cash, paraphernalia for cutting heroin, and photographs that proved she was acquainted with people higher up in the Saginaw drug world.   When she was sentenced to do 10 to 20 years for a person with no prior history... those things don't mesh with someone (who was a small time drug dealer).  The state police that did the investigation estimated she was making $2,000 a week when she was arrested. That's $104,000 a year.  That's good money now, imagine what it was in 1974."

This related story has a corrections official suggesting that she would have to serve at least 5+ years on her original conviction and that a sentencing judge might tack on an additional prison term for escape.  The piece also notes, however, that Michigan Governor "Jennifer M. Granholm has the power to grant clemency."  This case should be an interesting one to watch in the days and weeks ahead.

UPDATE:  This new article provides more details about LeFevre's life and crimes in the 1970s, and it concludes with this notable suggestion from the Michigan prosecutor in charge of a drug task force at the time she was originally sentenced:

If he were prosecutor today, said Denton [who was Saginaw County's prosecutor in charge during the 1970s], he wouldn't put LeFevre back in prison. Instead, he would allow her to withdraw her plea, have her replead to the same charges, then sentence her under the new Michigan guidelines, which would factor in a prior record, the severity of the crime and what she has done with her life.  "I'd give her probation and let her go back and be with her family in California."

May 2, 2008 at 04:26 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Governor Granholm probably won't grant clemency, which pisses me off because I campaigned for her in '02 and have met her a couple of times, and this is exactly the kind of person who needs to be forgiven. But if her press secretary is to be believed she has almost no shot in hell. Just another reason for me to never to campaign for or vote in a "New" Democrat.

And this b.s. about her being a heroin ringleader? You must be kidding me. I don't know what information the state has, but to suggest that she was making over 100K (at the age of 19, in MI) in 1974 dollars, no less, is to suggest that she was a criminal mastermind. Hell, maybe she was, she did manage to build a life for herself under the radar for 32 years, which either suggests that she was a criminal mastermind or, more likely given my experience with the U.S. Marshall's office, they are incompetent and/or overworked.

A cursory search on Westlaw reveals that 10-20 was not uncommon for heroin dealers in 1974, although no mention is made of whether or not they were first time offenders. Given that this is after Nixon worked his law and order silent majority magic on the country, though, I would hesitate to call such a sentence unexpected.

Posted by: Alec | May 2, 2008 5:21:28 PM

She had the $600 in cash because the cop gave it to her. If that's all the cash she had on her, she probably wasn't a huge drug dealer. Yeah I suppose it could have been her first sale of the day, but even so, a big-time drug dealer is probably always going to have a lot of cash on hand.

I think there should be a statute of limitations for escapees. If you can evade authorities for, say, 10 years w/out getting in trouble and live a normal lawful life (especially for a victimless crime like drug possession, manufacture, or distribution) you should be allowed to keep on living free. Yes it gives an incentive to escape, but no more so than already exists. There's always an incentive to escape. And how many actually make it 10+ years w/out getting caught? You have to be the pinnacle of a model citizen, lest you get fingerprinted.

This should be especially true when a crime is less serious (as is the case here) by the time the escapee is finally recaptured.

I'm curious how the anonymous tip came about.. was it a family member who snitched? I bet she didn't tell too many people her secret. Her husband didn't even know.

Posted by: bruce | May 2, 2008 5:33:06 PM

If her husband did know, he would say he didn't. Otherwise he could be facing jail time as well. Imagine the husband ratted her out??? You cannot make this stuff up.

Posted by: NYNY | May 2, 2008 6:57:42 PM

NYNY has fallen prey to the State Department of Corrections spokesman's exhortation to engage our most reliable and reasoned of mental faculties, our imagination. Imagine who else has fallen victim to this load of garbage. Now imagine them on a jury. Now imagine...

Posted by: Christopher | May 2, 2008 8:25:23 PM

I believe that a law which affects unjustly must be changed.So the judgement should be done seeing the both sides.

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Posted by: James | May 3, 2008 7:24:09 AM

Putting this woman back in prison has no deterrent value nor is it part of a rehabilitation plan. It can only be for the purpose of satisfying a lunatic's twisted notion of retribution or just a mean-spirited piece of vengeance.

Sidney Gendin
Professor Emeritus, Philosophy of Law
Eastern Michigan University

Posted by: Sidney Gendin | May 3, 2008 10:30:23 AM

Looks like the prosecutor understands these things.

Posted by: S.cotus | May 3, 2008 2:28:48 PM

yeah... he'd give her probation for the drug charge... but then he'd sentence her to the max for the new escape charge! Hah. neener neener!

Posted by: bruce | May 3, 2008 3:31:55 PM

just my two cents. At about 32k to keep her jail a year I say let her do community service in the area she lives.Having to lie and be worried for 32 years is some sort of punishment besides I am sure that Michigan residents would welcome that jail cell going to a more violent person.

Posted by: believe | May 3, 2008 6:16:29 PM

I am confused at all the leniancy requests for this woman. It is one thing to suggest that the original sentence was harsh, but to suggest that she has paid her debt by living clean life since is preposterous! She obviously deceived her husband into believing she was someone she is not and as far as living a clean life since, it is a lot easier staying clear of the law in mansion in Del Mar than it would be if she was living "underground" I say put her back in prison to serve out her sentence with an escape charge tacked on, if not, we will be setting a dangerous precedent going forward.

Posted by: Student | May 3, 2008 8:39:22 PM

Because, student, a prison bed is a scarce resource, and we want to optimize how we use them.

Posted by: federalist | May 4, 2008 12:01:43 AM

I think she should be rewarded for being a young heroin dealer who escaped from prison, stole a dead person's ss#, and assumed a new identity, by being freed from any further consequence.

If escaping works, you shouldn't get punished for it.

Posted by: Tom | May 5, 2008 3:11:53 PM

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