Fugitive for 48 years, Georgia man fighting to stay free

Robert Stackowitz (CBS News)

SHERMAN, Conn. (CBS News) – Robert Stackowitz has been living with a secret for most of his adult life.

“It was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Stackowitz said.

After escaping from a Georgia prison in 1968, he hid out in a quiet Connecticut town until last week, when U.S. Marshals finally showed up at his door.

“I got a job, Social Security card, went to work, never had a problem,” Stackowitz said.

The now 71-year-old says he is too told and sick to return to prison, reports CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan.

Fifty years ago, he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison for his part in an armed robbery. A mechanic by trade, he served time fixing school buses off-site.

“I worked over there for quite a while and one day I left. It’s kind of simple as that,” Stackowitz said. “Somebody gave me a ride to the Atlanta airport and [I] got on a plane and flew home. Well, back then, they didn’t have any terrorist checks.”

He assumed the name Robert Gordon and settled in the tiny rural Connecticut town of Sherman, where nobody knew his past.

Over 48 years, he lived a quiet life, working at car dealerships, teaching shop at a local high school and repairing boats at his home for friends and neighbors. But he said he knew he’d eventually get caught.

“You know you do, but after 50 years, you don’t really think about it constantly,” Stackowitz said.

But at age 71, he made one mistake – applying for Social Security benefits, which enabled authorities to track him down. His girlfriend of more than 20 years was stunned.

“I said, ‘What?’ Are you sure? Do they have the wrong person?”‘ Cindy Derby recalled. “I never heard nothing about Georgia.”

Today, Stackowitz says he’s battling bladder cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and that extradition would be a death sentence. While he agrees he should serve time for his crime, he said, “The amount of time I got for what I did I think was a little unfair.”

But officials in Georgia want him back.

“The crime that he committed was a fairly serious crime … but I think if he’s truly wanting to travel the straight and narrow road, then it’s best for him to come back and try to handle these charges appropriately,” said Robert Jones, warden of the Carroll County Correctional Institution.

“I’m hoping the judge will be compassionate, you know what I mean? That’s the best I can hope for at this point, I think,” Stackowitz said.

Stackowitz’s attorneys filing the paperwork this week to have his sentence commuted. But the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles said it won’t consider his case until after he’s back in the state.

It is unclear at this point if or when that will happen.

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