URGENT Guilty Verdicts In Helicopter Escape Case
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Two lovers who fled federal prison in a stolen helicopter last November were convicted today of charges stemming from their escape.
Ronald McIntosh, 42, and Samantha Dorinda Lopez, 37, sat side by side as the verdicts were read in U.S. District Court. Lopez placed her hands over her mouth, but both remained speechless.
McIntosh was found guilty of air piracy and helping Lopez escape and faces up to 25 years to life in prison. He had been scheduled for release next year.
Lopez, who would have been eligible for parole in about five years, was convicted of escape.
Lopez contended she had uncovered irregularities in the way the Dublin prison was run, and said her life had been threatened by the warden and guards. McIntosh’s lawyer contended the Vietnam veteran suffered from post- traumatic stress syndrome, and the condition influenced McIntosh’s decision to assist the daring, daylight escape.
The jury deliberated only about two hours before reaching its decision.
McIntosh was serving a sentence for wire fraud when he met Lopez working in the business office of the federal prison in Dublin, about 30 miles east of San Francisco.
He disappeared during an unsupervised transfer to a Lompoc prison on Oct. 2. On Nov. 5, wearing a white jacket and white baseball cap, he landed a stolen helicopter in the medium-security compound and took Lopez away.
They were arrested by FBI agents 10 days later when they went to a Sacramento shopping center to pick up wedding rings.
During closing arguments Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Zanides depicted the couple as manipulative criminals, lying low after their spectacular breakout while contemplating blending into ″middle America″ with the aid of property McIntosh had at his disposal, including a yacht and home on five acres in the Pacific Northwest.
He dismissed as ″the big lie″ their claim that they fled as a result of prison authorities’ threats and assaults.
But Lopez’ attorney, Geoffrey Hanson, characterized the prison situation at Dublin as the ″guards versus the inmates″ and said prison officials operated with unbridled authority to search, silence and punish prisoners - such as Lopez - whom they considered trouble.
″It was a mess over there,″ he said. Hanson said Lopez and McIntosh were worried by threats and attacks on her by guards after her complaints about irregularities ranging from the opening of inmate mail to water contamination and problems with an inmate trust fund.
Zanides urged jurors to reject that interpretation of the case. Other inmates complained of the same or similar problems without retaliation, he said.
″The point is, these are not secrets she is threatening him (Warden Rob Roberts) with,″ he said. ″They are in prison. Nobody likes to be in prison. There are going to be complaints.″
Lopez, who had been serving a 50-year term for aiding and abetting a Georgia bank robbery, also has a record of 21 felony convictions for forgery and ″has a track record as somebody who ... deceives,″ Zanides said.
While the prison ″is no Boy Scout camp,″ her accounts of a guard calling her ″dead meat″ and throwing liquid in her face and saying it was acid has aspects ″of a grade ‘B’ movie...,″ Zanides said.
He also scoffed at defense assertions that McIntosh helped Lopez escape because post-traumatic stress syndrome resulting from his two-year stint in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot and mechanic left him distrustful of government and likely to believe escape was necessary.
To prove the ″necessity defense,″ he said, Lopez and McIntosh would have had to have made a good-faith effort to surrender after escaping, but they did not mention fears for their lives in interviews with FBI agents or reporters after the arrests.
Hanson said that after Lopez’ arrest, she repeatedly told agents and other authorities she wanted to talk about prison conditions, but they advised her to take up the subject with others later.
McIntosh attorney Judd Iversen said jurors should decide not whether Lopez was truthful about the threats and attacks, but whether McIntosh thought she was. He said McIntosh said he thought that Lopez might be sent to an Illinois prison for a lobotomy unless he rescued her.
An innocent verdict for his client, Iversen said, would send a message to Vietnam veterans ″that we recognize their sacrifices, that we recognize their problems and we want them to come home.″