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.
Where does any of that apply?
- 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)
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.On the other hand, consequence.
"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.