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Mom's secret past catches up with her

San Diego woman, 53, is arrested as escapee from Michigan prison in 1976.

May 01, 2008|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A 53-year-old wife and mother who escaped from a Michigan prison in 1976 is facing extradition after being arrested at her upscale home in San Diego, officials said Wednesday.

Susan Lefevre, sentenced in 1975 to 10 to 20 years in prison on drug charges, was living as Marie Walsh in the Carmel Valley neighborhood, the U.S. marshal's office said.

A tipster had alerted Michigan officials to Lefevre's whereabouts. Her identity was confirmed through the thumbprint on her driver's license.

Lefevre was in "disbelief" when she was arrested last week, said Deputy U.S. Marshal Steve Jurman. At first, she denied being the fugitive but then relented, he said.

"She kept saying, 'Are you sure? Are you sure you have to take me?' " Jurman said. "She told me, 'It was the 1970s. Everybody was doing heroin. It's not like it is today.' "

There is no indication that her husband or three grown children knew of her past, Jurman said.

Lefevre is in the women's jail in Santee awaiting an extradition hearing. In a jailhouse interview with San Diego television station KGTV, she said she was treated unfairly by Michigan prosecutors, who had promised her probation if she pleaded guilty in 1975. Her family helped her escape after she had served a year, she said.

Lefevre said she never thought that Michigan authorities would find her.

"I was a teenager with a small drug thing," she said. "I felt the state had better things."

She said that although she had used drugs, she had never sold them, and that Marie -- the name she went by in San Diego -- is her middle name.

Lefevre's husband of 23 years, Alan Walsh, issued a statement to the media: "Our family is threatened to be destroyed by something that happened when Marie was a 19-year-old teenager 34 years ago. She has the full support of her extended family and her many friends."

A neighbor said that Lefevre "was the ideal mom -- caring, loving, a good neighbor. We're all in shock."

In addition to the unfinished portion of the 1975 sentence, Lefevre also may face an escape charge, Jurman said. Michigan law carries a maximum five-year sentence for a prison escape.

On the day she escaped, Lefevre had been given a pass to go to a health clinic at the sprawling Detroit House of Corrections, just outside Detroit.

"I just hopped a fence," she said.

A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections disputed Lefevre's version of her arrest and conviction.

Spokesman Russ Marlan said records show that she was acquainted with several large-scale drug dealers, had drug paraphernalia in her home in Saginaw and was making money as a dealer.

She probably will have to serve five to nine years in prison before being eligible for parole, Marlan said.

Meanwhile, Michigan officials will investigate to see if she has broken any other laws in her three decades as a fugitive, he said. A fugitive warrant lists several aliases she allegedly used.

Marlan said that security at Michigan prisons has been greatly tightened since the mid-1970s. The House of Corrections has been torn down and the Robert Scott Correctional Facility, a new, more tightly controlled complex, has been built across the street. Lefevre will be brought there to be processed into the prison system, Marlan said.

"She has a prison sentence to fulfill," Marlan said. "We can't, even if we wanted to, negate that prison sentence. What kind of message would that send to 50,000 other prisoners in Michigan? If you escape and live clean, you can have your sentence dropped if you're caught?"

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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