Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

Florida parole board sets path to freedom for prison Houdini

TALLAHASSEE — A man known as the "prison Houdini" for his numerous escapes was given a path to freedom Thursday, 36 years after being convicted of stealing mechanic tools his father bequeathed to him.

Florida's parole board voted 2-1 to set a July 26 release date, choosing to get Mark DeFriest help for mental health issues and prepare him for the world outside of prison rather than punish him for acting out after a series of recent missteps left him in solitary confinement in an Oregon prison.

"He's not a murderer, he's not a rapist, he doesn't have a history of violence," Florida Commission on Offender Review Chairwoman Melinda Coonrod said Wednesday during debate that set up Thursday's vote. "He's in the worst situation that he has been in for a long time. The system has failed him and we put him there."

The decision means DeFriest, 55, can now be transferred to a California prison, where he still has to complete a two-year sentence for having drugs while incarcerated there. California has assured the parole board he will get the treatment and programs it hoped he would get when it sent him to Oregon in 2014.

Previous Tampa Bay Times coverage: Two inmates, one deaf, the other mentally ill, seek mercy from Florida parole commission

DeFriest is described as an autistic savant — an incredibly intelligent man who couldn't handle the prison system because of his mental health issues. He was originally sentenced to four years on a burglary conviction for taking his father's tools before his will could be executed. That turned into a virtual life sentence after seven escapes and 13 attempts, along with related charges after the breakouts. It didn't help that he also had nearly 400 disciplinary reports, called DRs for short.

In 2014, the commission knocked 70 years off his parole date after he went more than two years without any disciplinary issues. DeFriest, who was been held out-of-state after testifying against guards who beat a Florida prisoner to death in 1999, was transferred from New Mexico to an Oregon prison so he could be closer to his wife while entering pre-release programs.

But the Oregon Department of Corrections put him in a maximum-security prison and never placed him in the pre-release programs. In March, the commission extended his prison stay to Aug. 23 so he could participate in the programs. Instead, a frustrated DeFriest continued to act out and Oregon kept him in solitary confinement.

Gabriel London, a filmmaker who made a documentary on DeFriest and an advocate for his release, told the commission that DeFriest is in horrible conditions in Oregon.

"He has health issues, he's not being showered regularly, he says he smells like a goat, he has no toothbrush, he hasn't brushed his teeth, he hasn't had medication," London said. "His foot is going numb and he thinks it's gangrene. We are dealing with somebody who is being treated in the worst way possible."

The commission originally set this week's hearing to consider rescinding DeFriest's Aug. 23 parole date because of the disciplinary issues, which included arson and marijuana use. Commissioner Richard Davison said DeFriest shouldn't be released.

But the chairwoman and Commissioner Judith Wolson agreed the recent problems were directly related to his mental illnesses and a reaction to a bad situation. They said it would be best to get DeFriest out of Oregon.

"I look at these DRs differently than I look at other inmates. I think we have to, otherwise we're punishing people for their mental illness," said Coonrod.

Among conditions of his parole are not getting in trouble in the California prison, transitioning to a group home after his release, receiving mental health treatment, a temporary curfew and reporting to a parole officer.

His lawyer, John Middleton, planned to speak to him Thursday afternoon, but said he didn't expect him to fully understand his situation. Paranoia makes it hard for him to believe that he'll be treated fairly in a new prison.

"He's going to think it's a trap," he said. "This Oregon adventure, it was supposed to be a positive transition for him. It turned into a nightmare."

Comments
Florida eliminates Texas Tech at College World Series, faces Arkansas for title-round spot

Florida eliminates Texas Tech at College World Series, faces Arkansas for title-round spot

OMAHA, Neb. — JJ Schwarz hit a two-run homer and Florida built enough cushion to survive Texas Tech's six-run outburst over the seventh and eighth innings to eliminate the Red Raiders from the College World Series with a 9-6 win Thursday night....
Updated: 2 hours ago
Missed time a good mental reset for Rays’ Matt Duffy

Missed time a good mental reset for Rays’ Matt Duffy

ST. PETERSBURG — Missing all of 2017 might have been the absolute worst thing for Matt Duffy.Frustratingly idled as he eventually recovered and rehabbed from ongoing left heel issues, he couldn't play the game he loved, couldn't show the Rays o...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Timeline of investigations, suspensions and allegations involving Jameis Winston

Timeline of investigations, suspensions and allegations involving Jameis Winston

The NFL will suspend Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston three games without pay to start the regular season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. The suspension could be increased if he fails to meet certain undisclosed requirements expect...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Jameis Winston suspension means Bucs will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB

Jameis Winston suspension means Bucs will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB

TAMPA — The news of Jameis Winston's suspension to start this season likely means the Bucs will have veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick stepping in at quarterback for the first three games of the regular season.Fitzpatrick took over as the starter for th...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Kevin Knox to Knicks makes NBA history locally

Kevin Knox to Knicks makes NBA history locally

More than a year ago, Kevin Knox stepped across the stage at the Straz Center to receive his high school diploma.On Thursday, the former Tampa Catholic star was on basketball's biggest stage as he fulfilled his lifelong goal of making the NBA.Knox wa...
Updated: 2 hours ago
2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

NHL schedules all balance out at the end, but the Lightning will open 2018-19 with five straight home games and end the season with its last four on the road.The Lightning released its schedule Thursday evening for the upcoming season, with all sorts...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

The Lightning doesn't have a first-round pick in this weekend's draft, but that's not to say the weekend couldn't be busy for general manager Steve Yzerman and his front office.The Lightning sent its top draft pick to the Rangers in February as part ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Next move is simple for the Bucs: Get rid of Jameis Winston

Next move is simple for the Bucs: Get rid of Jameis Winston

Trade him. Waive him. Cut him.Whatever.Just get rid of him.Jameis Winston should never play another game for the Tampa Bay Bucs.Plain and simple, he's a bad guy and the Bucs should have nothing more to do with him.He already will miss the first three...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and intellectual provocateur, dies at 68

Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and intellectual provocateur, dies at 68

Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and intellectual provocateur who championed the muscular foreign policy of neoconservatism that helped lay the ideological groundwork for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays journal: Jake Bauers proves he’s up to speed on bases

Rays journal: Jake Bauers proves he’s up to speed on bases

ST. PETERSBURG – Rookie 1B Jake Bauers has impressed at the plate and in the field since his June 7 promotion.Also, with his hustling on the bases."I knew he played hard; everybody said that at every level,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "I di...
Updated: 5 hours ago