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Minn. Police Nab Suspected Escapee

May 31, 2002

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KETTLE RIVER, Minn. (AP) _ Authorities arrested a man who they say escaped from an Oklahoma prison 31 years ago, drove trucks and eventually retired with his common-law wife to this northern Minnesota town.

Police say the man known as Samuel Jason Banning, 77, is really John Willington Severs, 70, who was convicted of raping his stepdaughter in Oklahoma in 1968.

Severs escaped from a minimum-security work farm in 1971, where he was serving a 99-year sentence.

The arrest pleased his stepdaughter, Sharon Severs, who is now 49 and still lives in Oklahoma.

``That’s good to hear. It’s been a long time,″ she said.

Severs was arrested Wednesday outside his home. Initially, he stuck to his alias but when told his fingerprints were on file, Severs acknowledged his true identity, Deputy Marshal Chris Connally said.

In a court appearance Thursday, Severs told the judge he escaped because he wasn’t guilty. He waived his right to fight extradition and was being held in jail Thursday night.

A fugitive task force in Oklahoma had been working on the case, said Jerry Massie of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He declined to comment on what evidence led them to Severs.

The arrest stunned the woman who knew Severs, as Banning, for 27 years. ``I had no idea,″ said Florence Uhl. ``It’s hard for me to believe anything. I don’t believe anything. I don’t know what to think.″

Uhl said she met Severs in Tacoma, Wash., in the mid-1970s. Severs told her he was from Alabama, she said.

They never had children together, but Severs helped raise her three children as his own, she said. They moved from Washington after 10 years and lived around rural Minnesota for the past 17 years.

``I think they got the wrong guy myself, unless he’s Jekyll and Hyde,″ Uhl said.

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