The state of Georgia wants Robert Stackowitz back. Now, it is up to the governor of Connecticut whether to extradite the 71-year-old convicted felon so he can serve the remainder of a 17-year prison sentence.
Fifty years ago Stackowitz was a brash 21-year-old who, along with two buddies, committed a robbery by force. The trio burst into the home of Jimmy Moseley, held him at gunpoint, tied him up with the cord from a vacuum cleaner and robbed him of $9 and the keys to his truck.
“After they tied me up,” Moseley told a reporter, “they intended to kill me because they said they never leave witnesses.” The now 91-year-old says he still has nightmares and is still waiting for justice.
Stackowitz was sentenced to 17 years in prison for that crime, but he escaped after serving only two. An unattended prison vehicle offered a means of escape.
“One morning I just got in the truck and drove myself away,” Stackowitz told the Hartford Courant. “I got on a plane and I was back in Connecticut before they even knew I was gone.”
For the last 48 years Stackowitz laid low in his home state. He survived through his talents as a “boat savant,” servicing engines, cleaning out bilge pumps and restoring fuel lines for the locals, most recently in Sherman, Connecticut adjacent to Candlewood Lake, the state’s largest freshwater lake.
Folks around the small hamlet knew Stackowitz by his alias, Bob Gordon, and he never told anyone about his past. Neighbors say he is a great guy and a credit to the community — a homeowner, a taxpayer, a man with a longtime girlfriend who employed others in his business. He lived a law-abiding life for almost five decades.
Then Stackowitz got sick with diabetes, heart and kidney diseases and bladder cancer. To help pay for his medications he applied for Social Security benefits using his real name. That triggered a signal to law enforcement officers in Georgia who had never closed his case. Early one morning last month, Stackowitz was arrested at his home by federal marshals. Friends arranged for his bond, and he has been awaiting extradition back to Georgia ever since.
So, what does society do with a man like Stackowitz? He does not deny his role in the crime. He willingly surrendered when the authorities came for him. He now attends court hearings in a wheelchair, wearing Bermuda shorts and black compression socks, his feet and legs obviously swollen from the effects of his various illnesses. Through his attorney, Stackowitz has asked the justice system for compassion, saying if he is sent back to prison it will certainly kill him.
Then again, it was Stackowitz who threatened to kill Moseley and terrorized him in his own home all those years ago. Society certainly should not turn a blind eye to a victim’s suffering simply because a convict was wily enough to escape and hide undetected for nearly 50 years.
Application of justice is a fluid thing. In Palo Alto, California, a jury recently found a young man guilty of three felony counts of sexual assault in a now-notorious case. The unnamed victim wrote a statement to the court with such a powerful impact that it has been viewed online more than 15 million times. The man, Brock Turner, 20, faced 14 years in prison, but Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to just six months because “A prison sentence would have a severe impact” on the former Stanford University student athlete’s life. “I think he will not be a danger to others,” the judge said.
So, is that the criteria other judges should follow? If a stint behind bars might have a “severe impact” on the criminal, if the judge’s gut feeling is the convict won’t hurt anyone else, then the criminal gets a leniency?
This is a dangerous precedent set by a judge who seems to have been swayed by the plight of a privileged kid who attended his prestigious alma mater on a swimming scholarship and dreamed of going to the Olympics.
Robert Stackowitz enjoyed no such privilege in his life. Six months for Brock Turner versus the potential for 15 years for Robert Stackowitz. Neither sentence sits well with me.