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Florida prison escapee pleads guilty

The man who robbed a Tampa convenience store, ran away from a Florida prison and then eluded capture for 26 years has pleaded guilty to escaping.

Oscar Richardson, who assumed the name Eugene Ward while on the lam, will be returned to Florida to serve his prison time. He pleaded guilty on Monday.

Richardson was arrested in December after an anonymous tip. He was less than two years into a 10-year sentence when he escaped from the Kissimmee Work Release Center in 1979.

On Jan. 28, 1977, Richardson held up two Eckerd Drug Store employees at gunpoint and demanded money from the store safe, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Web site. Fourteen months later, he robbed a Tampa convenience store and held the store clerk at gunpoint, demanding she fill the bag with money, also according to the FDLE.

Richardson was arrested minutes later and charged in the robbery. Shortly after his escape, an FDLE agent told the Associated Press, Richardson made his way to Missouri. He used a false Social Security number and became Eugene Ward. He spent 26 years in the same house, had a long-term relationship and fathered a child. While living in Branson, he ran a lawn company and was a handyman.

The FDLE ramped up its efforts to find wanted criminals in December, targeting Richardson on its "12 Days of Fugitives," an effort to capture a dozen fugitives during the holidays.

After a tip, federal agents found him in Ridgedale, Mo., near the Arkansas state line. Richardson surrendered at his home in Taney County.

The Springfield News-Leader reported that one of Richardson's attorneys, Christopher Smith, said lawyers had agreed on a sentence recommendation of a year and a day for every year Richardson had left on his sentence. His sentencing is set for June 7.

Another attorney, Dee Wampler, said Richardson had turned his life around since moving to Missouri.

However, after being arrested on the escape charge, Richardson was charged with three counts of tax evasion. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. It is unclear how and when he will serve that sentence.

The Associated Press, Springfield News-Leader and Times archives contributed to this report.

Florida prison escapee pleads guilty 04/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 12:33am]

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