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Board Grants Parole to Man 13 Years after Escape

February 1, 1985

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ A convicted burglar who escaped from prison and led a crime-free life for 121/2 years until his recapture last fall will be paroled in May, the state Board of Probation and Parole said Friday.

But the inmate’s wife and a state senator criticized the decision, saying Richard Gartner should be released immediately from the state prison in nearby Camp Hill.

″I think it’s outrageous,″ said Sen. H. Craig Lewis, who had lobbied for Gartner’s freedom.

″I’m upset and I’m mad because he should be home. He should have been able to leave that place and come home,″ said Jeannie Gartner, who said she’s running out of money with her husband absent.

Gartner, now 34, walked away from a prison forestry camp in April 1972, hitchhiked home to Bucks County, started a family and paid state and federal taxes under his own name for more than a decade, he said in a recent interview.

Before the escape, he had served five months of a six-year sentence for a string of burglaries which he said took in less than $300.

No one tried to capture him until his arrest last November by the Fugitive Investigative Strike Team, a federal-state operation that nabbed 3,300 fugitives in the northeast United States over two months.

Since his arrest, Gartner has been in solitary confinement because of the escape charge against him. With the dropping of that charge last month, he probably will be moved to the general population, prison officials said.

While out of prison, Gartner worked for a trash carting firm, then started his own hauling business. He married and had four children, who now range in age from 6 to 10 years old.

Lewis and Mrs. Gartner said they had expected the board to parole Gartner immediately.

″How can they do this?″ she asked. ″Rick has to come home. We’re broke. I’ve used everything we have.″

Mrs. Gartner said she never took a job during their marriage. ″Rick’s always been a good father and husband,″ she said.

″By any human and compassionate analysis of the circumstances, all observers agreed that Mr. Gartner should not be incarcerated,″ Lewis said. ″All of the subjective factors that are supposed to go into a parole decision have been totally ignored by the board,″ he added.

The board insisted it had considered what Gartner called his ″self- rehabilit ation.″

″The board recognizes the 121/2 years of satisfactory adjustment subsequent to your escape from the forestry camp,″ the panel told the inmate in its unsigned decision.

However, the board said it decided to require Gartner to serve slightly more than six months after his arrest Nov. 10 because at the time of his escape he would have been eligible for parole in six months.

The board members refused to speak with reporters about the decision, according to Alva Meader, the board’s executive secretary.

Lewis said he expected Gartner’s attorney to file an immediate appeal of the decision to the state’s Commonwealth Court and to ask Gov. Dick Thornburgh to commute his sentence.

But the governor would be unable to free Gartner before his parole date because the Board of Pardons would first have to hold a public hearing on the request, said David Bayne, secretary of the Board of Pardons.

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