Susan LeFevre was a Michigan teenager when she was arrested in 1974 for selling relatively small amounts of heroin to an undercover officer. At the request of her conservative family, she pleaded guilty and hoped for mercy, but was instead sentenced to 20 years in prison despite having no previous record. With the help of family members, she bolted from prison in 1976 and fled to California, where she started a new life with a new identity.
Last week, thanks to an anonymous tip to the Michigan Department of Corrections, she was tracked down and arrested in San Diego, where she had lived a quiet upper middle-class life and raised three children with her husband of 23 years. Now, Michigan wants her back to do the rest of her sentence.
The case of LeFevre, now known as Marie Walsh, is putting the issues of crime and punishment and redemption and forgiveness, not to mention harsh drug sentencing, in the national spotlight. While the nation debates her fate, LeFevre sits in a California jail cell awaiting extradition to her home state.
"It's been a secret no one knew for so long, and now everyone knows," LeFevre told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday at Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee, a San Diego suburb. "I hope there's some mercy."
There sure wasn't any mercy when she copped a plea in Michigan more than 30 years ago. She plea bargained in a bid for a lenient sentence, or even probation. Instead she was sentenced to the maximum 10 to 20 years. "I kept thinking it had to be a mistake. I was supposed to have probation," LeFevre said.
And it doesn't sound like Michigan is feeling any more forgiving now than it was back when Gerald Ford was president. "Just because she escaped and evaded capture for 30 years doesn't mean your prison sentence is negated," said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan. She would have to do at least nine years to satisfy her sentence, he said.
That his wife has turned out to be a fugitive from justice means little to Alan Walsh, who never knew about LeFevre's secret past. "I've known my wife, Marie, for 23 years," he said in a statement. "She is a person of the highest integrity and compassion. During that time she's been nothing but a caring and wonderful wife and mother. She has raised three beautiful children and worked hard to build a good life for them, and has dedicated her life to their well-being. Her family is now threatened to be destroyed."
Barring a refusal by the state of California to extradite her back to Michigan, which is highly unlikely, LeFevre's only hope would appear to be a commutation of her sentence. Otherwise, she will become just one more drug war prisoner in Michigan's prisons overflowing with drug war prisoners.