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Tipster warned sheriff of escape

Published May 9, 1995|Updated Oct. 4, 2005

Albert Leon Fletcher wanted out of jail _ badly.

Facing the death penalty in a murder case yet to reach trial in Polk County, Fletcher wrote to his girlfriend, Patricia Goluba, that he was going to escape whenever he got an opportunity.

Not long after, Fletcher got his chance.

Fletcher bolted from a Pasco County sheriff's van delivering him to the courthouse in Dade City on Jan. 11 after he picked the locks on his handcuffs and leg shackles.

He has been gone ever since.

Goluba wasn't the only one who knew about Fletcher's escape talk: Pasco County sheriff's officials confirmed Monday they had received a warning from a tipster the week before the escape that Fletcher was talking to Goluba about bolting. Goluba could not be reached for comment.

Sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers said deputies beefed up security for Fletcher after the tip, including adding a second deputy to the van that delivered him to Dade City.

"It was reported to us by a third party," Powers said. "It was not specific. It's not like he said, "I'm going to escape at such and such a time.' He just said, if he got the chance, he would escape. He just said it spontaneously."

Fletcher, 25, formerly of Zephyrhills, has escaped custody on a previous arrest, so Powers said he already was considered a threat to flee.

Such a threat is common among inmates facing the death penalty and is not considered out of the ordinary. Security for inmates facing murder charges is always tight, Powers said.

"When somebody is facing what he is facing, that goes without saying," he said.

So far, Fletcher has eluded a large regional manhunt, though deputies have come close to arresting him at least once.

Jan. 21, police received a tip that Fletcher would appear at his parents' house in Zephyrhills. But the tipster who reported the information then warned Fletcher about the trap.

"The same person who dropped a dime on him turned around and dropped a dime on us," Powers said.

But police in Pasco and Polk counties say the trail is hardly cold.

"In some cases, you get a totally cold trail," said Scott Wilder, a spokesman for the Polk County Sheriff's Office. "That isn't the case with Mr. Fletcher."

Powers said his office has confirmed four "bona fide" sightings of Fletcher since his escape in the Tampa Bay area, including two in the Zephyrhills area and two in Tampa.

"We know that he's been in the area," said Powers. "We have also heard that he has traveled out of state on occasion." He could not say where.

Powers said Fletcher has slightly changed his appearance _ he could not say how. "But it's not like he's had reconstructive surgery," he said. "He's changed some of the obvious things."

Powers said friends and family in the Tampa Bay area, whom he would not identify, have provided Fletcher with money since his escape. He said they may be charged with aiding a fugitive when Fletcher is captured.

Hillsborough County sheriff's officials already have charged one person, Debra M. Wittebort, 32, of Dover with aiding Fletcher during his escape.

Jack Espinosa, Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman, said Wittebort helped Fletcher buy a 1983 Plymouth in Tampa on Jan. 20 and then helped Fletcher get the title for the car.

Espinosa said Fletcher had assumed the name Kevin Woodside after stealing a driver's license bearing the name. The person who sold the car to Wittebort later identified Fletcher from a group of photos.

It is unknown whether Fletcher is still using the car, and Wittebort could not be reached for comment.

Police, meanwhile, continue to keep an eye on Fletcher's old haunts. One person police have contacted is Shirley Glenn, a family friend in Zephyrhills.

Glenn said in an interview late last month that she hasn't seen Fletcher since his escape but nonetheless thinks he has been treated unfairly by the system.

"I believe he is innocent," she said. "He got himself a raw deal all the way around. I just hope he's safe. I'm not surprised he hasn't been caught. The newspapers print that he's dumb. But he's one smart guy."

When Fletcher escaped in Dade City in January, he was about to stand trial for armed burglary charges in Pasco. He had been convicted and sentenced to 17 years in another burglary.

The burglary, authorities said, was part of a crime spree that ended with a killing in Lakeland.

In April 1993, Fletcher was arrested with his cousin, Doug Porter of Lakeland, and charged by Lakeland police in the killing of Nelson Medina Oliveras during a botched robbery.

Porter, 25, was convicted in the killing and sentenced to life in prison without a chance of parole for 25 years. Porter identified Fletcher as the triggerman.

The trial, in which Fletcher faces the death penalty, was to have begun in July.

Anyone with information about Fletcher is asked to call Detective Jim Medley in Dade City at (904) 521-5111.

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