Gov. Dannel Malloy will soon be given an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to the Second Chance Society to which he committed more than one year ago. His stated goal is to reduce the number of people who go to prison unnecessarily. He can demonstrate the commitment by refusing to sign papers permitting Robert Stackowitz, 71, of Sherman, Connecticut, to be extradited to Georgia.
Mr. Stackowitz, I should disclose, is a client. He made national news last week when he was arrested some 48 years after walking away from a Georgia prison. The good people of Georgia say they want him back. The extradition gears are already turning.
Law students are taught that the criminal sanction satisfies four goals: punishment, rehabilitation, protection of society, and deterrence. Judged by these standards, there is little justification for sending Mr. Stackowitz back to Georgia.
Reeling from a bitter divorce, Mr. Stackowitz was all of 22 years old when he left Connecticut to put some distance between himself and his troubles. He landed in Atlanta, where he met two guys with a plan to make some money: the burglary of a home. Mr. Stackowitz agreed to be the driver.
Things were going according to plan until the homeowner arrived on the scene. He was subdued and tied to a chair. Mr. Stackowitz participated.
The three defendants were promptly caught and tried. Mr. Stackowitz was sentenced to 17 years in prison. He co-defendants were sentenced to terms of 17 and 12 years.
At first, Mr. Stackowitz served on an infamous chain gang. When prison officials learned he was a good mechanic, a task he demonstrated by tuning up the warden’s car, he was made a trustee and given permission to travel throughout the state to service school buses.
One day, he simply walked away from prison. “I was on an airplane back to Connecticut before they knew I was gone,” he said. That was in 1968. For the next 48 years, he lived peacefully in Connecticut, working as an auto mechanic, a part owner of a service station, and, for a time, a teacher at the Henry Abbott Technical School in Danbury. He maintained a Connecticut driver’s license under the name Robert Stackowitz all those years.
Time has not been good to him. He now suffers congestive heart failure, bladder cancer, diabetes, circulatory problems, and a host of other health issues that keep him tethered to his kitchen table. Difficulty breathing renders him unable to sleep on a bed – he sleeps, when he can, in a recliner. The brief walk to a restroom is difficult to accomplish.
Mr. Stackowitz outran the law for decades, but Father Time has him firmly in hand.
Not long ago, he applied for Social Security benefits, and this permitted lawmen to find him. He was arrested, taken into custody, and held for five days until released one midnight on bond. It took him more than three days to get a legal call to me.
Why would Georgia want him back? And why would Connecticut send a man on death’s door back to Georgia? Mr. Stackowitz lived a lifetime after his escape without incident. He’s been rehabilitated; specific deterrence has been accomplished; the two-plus years he spent in prison was punishment enough.
The only reason to send him back is to promote general deterrence – to send a message to others that escape is intolerable, and respect for the law is required. But isn’t that placing principal above good sense?
I am reminded of Inspector Javert’s relentless pursuit of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. In the end, Javert killed himself when he realized the there is no life in the letter of the law. Justice needs to be tempered with mercy – a man can repent, turn his life around, and become a valued and productive member of society given the right conditions and enough time.
Robert Stackowitz has turned his life around. He should be permitted to live the balance of his life in peace: Extradition may well kill him, his health is so fragile. And to what end? A blind and unthinking adherence to principle?
Don’t sign an extradition warrant, governor. Demonstrate that the Second Chance Society is more than an empty promise.