Escapee to gain freedom legally


A Maryland prison escapee who lived an apparently law-abiding life for eight years before being recaptured is poised to gain his freedom again soon -- this time legally.

The Maryland Parole Commission has told Anthony D. Francis he will be released from the Eastern Correctional Institution, provided the state of Georgia agrees to supervise him. That's where Mr. Francis left a son, a fiancee and a job in furniture sales where colleagues knew him as "Gordon Peal."

"He certainly indicates through his demeanor and past history that he will not be a threat to public safety," Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the parole commission, said yesterday.

William Francis, a brother who still lives in Baltimore, began circulating a petition for Mr. Francis' release months ago, garnering a few hundred signatures. One of them was from Ellsworth Jackson, the liquor store owner Anthony Francis robbed in 1976.

"I was more than happy to sign," Mr. Jackson said yesterday. "That's something that happened a long time ago. The best of it all is that I managed to live through it. All I'm doing now is looking forward, and I hope he'll do the same."

"This is one time when Maryland really did their job," Mr. Francis' lawyer, Patricia S. Hall, said of the parole decision. "He is rehabilitated. He wants to have a factory in Georgia. He would like parolees to be able to work there. He could turn his back on all this, but he really cares."

When she spoke to him by phone from the prison, Ms. Hall said, Mr. Francis told her, "I won't have to look over my shoulder any more."

Mr. Francis walked away from the Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit on the Eastern Shore on Aug. 10, 1986, and into his new life.

The Baltimore native had been sentenced to 20 years in prison after robbing a liquor store owner at gunpoint in 1976. Four years later, he was indicted in the fatal stabbing of a fellow inmate. Though Mr. Francis was acquitted, he feared retaliation from other inmates, whom he believed had taken a contract out on his life. So with 10 years left on his sentence, he bolted and took a train to Chicago.

He gave himself a new name -- "Gordon" after a politician who espoused positive thinking and productivity, "Peal," short for Court of Appeals. He met a woman named Angela Lumpkin, got a job selling encyclopedias and obtained identification in the name of his alter ego. Two years later, he and Ms. Lumpkin had a son, Jamaal.

After the couple moved to the Atlanta area, the relationship soured and Mr. Francis became engaged to another woman, Dawn Alexander, who knew nothing of his past. When he sought joint custody of Jamaal, he says, Ms. Lumpkin told authorities Mr. Francis was an escapee.

He has been in prison here since October. In March, a Wicomico County judge sentenced Mr. Francis to 18 months out of a possible 10 years for the escape, saying the convict deserved credit for rehabilitating himself.

Mr. Francis may not be able to see his son upon his return. Ms. Alexander said yesterday that she has not been able to locate the boy or his mother, and that cards sent to Jamaal have come back marked "return to sender."

A manager at Roberd's Furniture outside Atlanta, where Mr. Francis impressed co-workers with his friendliness and skill with customers, said she could not comment on whether the parolee could work there again. But Ms. Alexander said Mr. Francis is working on establishing his own small furniture company with a partner.

"I get the impression he's just going to jump in running," she said yesterday.

One thing Mr. Francis plans to keep from his old life when he resumes the new is his born name.

At first after going back to prison, Mr. Francis vowed to remain Gordon Peal if he got out, Ms. Alexander said. But lately, she said, he has told her his real name is an important example of just how far he has come.

"I think he was just happy with who Gordon was," Ms. Alexander said. "But he can be Anthony Francis and be the same person."

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