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Virginia Chain Gang Fugitive Fights Extradition

November 8, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Charles A. Kelliher’s 40 years a fugitive from a Virginia chain gang have come to an end, but he says he has paid society all it has coming and at least 100 of his friends agree.

Kelliher’s past caught up with him last week when federal marshals knocked on the door of his Brooklyn apartment. Diane Kelliher, his wife of 20 years, said she ″had no idea. I was shocked about the whole thing.″

Kelliher was taken to a New York City jail, where he has been held without bond since Oct. 31.

The 59-year-old former moonshine runner and self-described hell-raiser, said he fled a prison road crew in 1950 when he was a 19-year-old rowdy from Manassas.

″We were out on a highway cleaning ditches,″ Kelliher said Wednesday. ″Something happened on the other side of the road and the guards turned and I took off.″

Kelliher had served only a few months of a 22-year sentence when he fled to New York. He had been convicted of getting drunk, breaking into the county courthouse and stealing his own car, which police had confiscated when they caught him hauling illegal whiskey.

″I thought he had lost his mind - 22 years 3/8″ he said of the judge.

Virginia authorities - who have a program to locate long-missing fugitives - enlisted the help of federal law enforcers who, after hours of stakeouts and computer record searches, traced Kelliher to his Bay Ridge apartment.

Donald Zimmerman, of the Virginia Department of Corrections in Richmond, said the state still wants Kelliher to serve the 21 years, eight months he owes.

Kelliher, with the help of attorney Philip A. DiPippo, who learned of his case through news reports, is resisting extradition.

″I don’t owe anybody anything. I’ve damn sure paid my dues,″ Kelliher said.

″This to me is truly all unnecessary,″ he said.

At a hearing Wednesday, Criminal Court Judge Seymour Gerschwer said he had no jurisdiction in the matter and sent the case to the state Supreme Court.

Some two dozen of Kelliher’s friends - many he met through Alcoholics Anonymous - attended the hearing to show support for Kelliher.

For 10 years, Kelliher has been sober and has helped and inspired recovering alcoholics, his friends said.

Friend Bettyann Seccia said Kelliher and his wife ″have helped me tremendously.″

A petition submitted to the court with more than 100 signatures described Kelliher as ″a man of conscience and heart. Through the years that we have known him, he has been an exemplary role model for all of us.″

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