Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Grandpa Will - Fugitive From Justice

Assuming Florida extradites him what then?

Frank Freshwaters is 79.  Which means he was around 24 then, 22 when this all started.  

It started with an auto accident.  He was driving 50 in a 35 zone.  Hit and killed a guy.  Entered a guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter, got sentenced to 5 years probation with up to 20 years of prison hanging over his head if he violated.  A few months later he went and got himself a driver's license.  That was a violation and the judge shipped him.  After 8 months behind bars, theoretically facing another 19 plus years, he was transferred to an honor farm.  

From which he walked away.  In September.  1959.

He's been living in a trailer near Melbourne, Florida for 20, 30, maybe close to 40 years  (He was tracked down in West Virginia in 1975, but the authorities there wouldn't extradite him.)  At the end of a road.  Pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  Staying out of trouble.  Plays the guitar.  Hunts some.  Drove a truck for years.  Retired now and living on social security.  Known as William Cox.

Now they've got him.  No violence.  He fessed right up when they showed him a picture of this 23-year-old con and asked if he recognized the guy.

The plan is to bring him back to the Buckeye State and charge him with escape.  And of course there's the rest of that prison sentence (up to 20 years, you'll recall) still to serve.

Judge Kopf fielded a question the other day from a "trainee solicitor" about how to sentence someone who's going to be dead very shortly - perhaps even before he'll start serving his time.  What, exactly, is the point of locking up the physically helpless and soon-to-be-dead, she wondered.  It's a question worth exploring (one of these days, perhaps).  But that's not this question.

This question is different.  This question is what do we do about William Cox, who once was, and in some sense still is but in a larger sense surely is no longer, Frank Freshwaters?

There are, the courts say, three approved reasons for punishment.
  • Specific deterrence (so you won't do it again)
  • General deterrence (so other people won't do it)
  • Retibution (the close sibling of revenge, differing mostly by sounding less bloodthirsty)
Where does any of that apply?

Ohio's sentencing law today (and of course Freshwaters/Cox's old sentence wasn't imposed under today's sentencing law, and if charged and convicted of escape it won't be under today's law, either) says that the primary purposes of sentencing are to protect the public and punish the offender.  And yeah, Freshwaters/Cox hasn't been formally punished for escape, and hasn't been fully (at least per the court's order back then) punished for killing that guy while speeding through Akron.

Still, real people in the real world don't often fit neatly into packages.

J.D. Gallop in USA Today tells of the past and the present.  And adds this:
Shirl Cheetham, 34, of Palm Bay said she had known Freshwaters — or William Cox as she knew him — for nearly 15 years. She's heard his jokes, listened to him play guitar and even went hunting with him. She also says the man her children call "Grandpa Will" was the best man at her 2012 wedding.
"He is just the sweetest man. ... I'm shell-shocked. After all this time, how he managed to keep from getting caught. He stayed out of trouble all this time," Cheetham, adding that she does not plan to tell her children about the arrest just yet. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around it."
Cheetham said Freshwaters attended West Melbourne Community Church from time to time and volunteered in a thrift store.
"This is someone who loved to laugh. I honestly think they should let him go," she said.
On the other hand, consequence.

Frank Freshwaters and William Cox


  1. Jeff -

    I think your question about the purpose of further punishment here is easily answered. It's for both specific and general deterrence! If people learn/believe that if they escape or abscond that they won't serve the rest of their previously-ordered punishment and won't be given more, what's their incentive not to try to escape/abscond (possibly hurting others in the process)? The passage of time may matter a bit, but not so much that all should be forgiven - after all, presumably pretty much anyone who escapes/absconds thinks they'll be out for good, else they wouldn't do it.

    1. Specific deterrence? Really? That's incapacitation, so he won't be able to do the heinous thing (escaping?) again. Which seems like not much of a risk in this case.

      General deterrence? Yeah, I get that, too. It's the lesson, again, of consequence. The law is relentless - sometimes even senseless. So obey, fuckheads.

      But hasn't that already been satisfied? See, we're relentless. We never stop. We always get our man. Lesson taught. Unless the less to be taught is, and then he'll suffer the pains of endless torment.

      So they found him. Press release issued! (The story's been all over the media.) The question is what's the right thing to do with him now that we've proved we can find him.

    2. You're right that it's less about specific than about general deterrence - there's probably little risk from him at his age. That said, I think general deterrence is important. The lesson one could reasonably learn, were he to be slapped on the wrist or just released outright, is that, if you escape/abscond (I keep writing that because I'm not sure one "escapes" from an honor farm) and avoid capture for a long time, you're off the hook. While I also have a problem, at some point, with the law acting like Inspector Javert, I don't see why this guy should get any credit for having failed to serve his sentence through having escaped/absconded. General deterrence isn't just served with a press release that a guy got caught - getting caught doesn't deter anyone. It's what happens next.

    3. It's not all that clear that what the additional general deterrent effect would be if he were tried, convicted, and promptly locked away for the rest of his life as punishment for the escape. Deterrence is remarkably hard to study, much more based on gut feeling than meaningful data.

      And much of the point of escaping, after all, is the expectation that you won't get caught. The press on the fact that he did get caught is key. (Imagine that there was no press or that the press didn't cover the case extensively; or that it doesn't continue to, and think about how that would deter.)

      But why so much press? Not every captured escapee gets the play he did. But he's 79, been on the run (metaphorically) for nearly 55 years, and apparently been a generally law-abiding, decent sort for at least a few decades now. It's a human interest story, not a crime story. Unless he gets a draconian sentence, there's likely no more significant press to come.

      Which doesn't say what should happen next. As I wrote, there's something to be said for consequence. On the other hand, there's a hell of a lot to be said for mercy.

  2. O fcourse this happened in Florida.

    1. Caught in Florida. The crimes were all Ohio, which is where he's being brought to serve his time and stand trial for the escape.