SALISBURY -- A Maryland fugitive who made a law-abiding life during eight years on the lam yesterday received an 18-month prison sentence for the escape, as a Wicomico County judge said the convict had rehabilitated himself.
That sentence will be added to the 10 years that Anthony D. Francis must serve on the robbery conviction that originally landed him in jail. But the sentence for the escape was well below the maximum of 10 years.
"Mr. Francis, you deserve credit for, in effect, rehabilitating yourself," Wicomico County Circuit Court Judge Alfred T. Truitt Jr. said, after glancing at a stack of letters and newspaper articles about Francis' life. They showed the convict raising money for disabled children in Chicago and winning an award from Roberd's Furniture, where he worked after moving to Georgia.
Dressed in a gray suit yesterday, Francis cut a very different figure from that in the old mug shot his lawyer showed the judge. Francis pleaded guilty and asked for a minimal sentence for walking away from the Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit in 1986.
At the time, he had served half of a 20-year sentence for a 1976 armed robbery in Baltimore. Francis said he feared for his life after threats from other prisoners.
Francis, 41, was arrested last September in Lawrenceville, Ga., where his fiancee, co-workers and friends knew him as a mild-mannered father and top furniture salesman named Gordon Peal. His ex-girlfriend told police Francis' true identity after he sought joint custody of their 6-year-old son, Jamaal Lumpkin.
"For eight years, I developed and demonstrated good conduct," Francis told Judge Truitt.
"With all due respect, I ask your honor that I not be a statistic," he said, his words muffled by sobs. "I regret those acts deeply.
"But after those acts, I've done everything right. I have a son. . . . I'd like to continue to be a part of his life -- help him see, understand, make the right choices."
Davis R. Ruark, state's attorney for Wicomico County, said he could find no evidence that Francis committed any crime after escaping.
The sentence for the escape, by itself, means little at the moment. By law, it must be served after Francis completes the sentence remaining for the robbery.
But the resolution of the escape charge will allow other efforts to release Francis to proceed. A parole hearing is to be scheduled soon, and Francis' attorney, Patricia S. Hall, plans to file an application for clemency with Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Ms. Hall said members of Francis' family and others interested in his plight have started a petition drive to lobby for Francis to be allowed to return to his new life. Francis' fiancee, Dawn &r; Alexander, drove 10 hours from Georgia to attend the sentencing and to visit him at Eastern Correction Institution, where he is in protective custody.
After the judge had announced his decision, she called out to Francis, still using his assumed name -- "Gordon!" He turned and smiled briefly before guards led him away.
Ms. Alexander said later that she still plans to marry Francis.
"I'm confident the governor will just take all the information and set him free," she said.