He walked away from a jail work detail in 1974 and lived an exemplary life for almost 25 years until he was caught driving with expired license plates in Michigan in 1998. His punishment for the escape: 10 days behind bars.
“You’ve been looking over your shoulder for long enough,” a Virginia judge told Alfred Odell Martin III. “Some deterrence is needed, but not a great deal in your case.”
Martin could have been sentenced to five years for the escape. Instead he finished off the few months remaining on his original sentence for selling 10 dollars worth of marijuana to a police informant plus the 10 days.
Show of family support
More than 90 friends and relatives who were in the courtroom to show their support broke into applause when the judge issued the sentence.
“I did wrong, but I’ve been good,” Martin told the judge. “I am glad to be here today to be relieved of a burden I’ve carried too long.”
Prosecutor Joan Ziglar had maintained that Martin should get substantial time in the cooler to send a message to other inmates that they can’t walk away and expect leniency. She did not, however, recommend a specific sentence.
Martin originally left a jail work crew and fled to Michigan, he said, to take care of his wife, a recent arrival from the Caribbean, and their baby. At the time of his arrest for expired license plates, Martin was living in Livonia, Michigan, a Detroit suburb, with his wife and three children and working at a mortgage company. Virginia had first sought his extradition in 1974, but then Governor William Milliken of Michigan effectively granted Martin legal asylum.
Martin was praised by a judge in Detroit and called an “exemplary” citizen who was “a credit to Michigan.”
Supreme Court ruling
But Judge William Cahalan also said he had to honor Virginia’s request because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that now prevented a governor from blocking an extradition.
Congressman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan had weighed in on the case, saying that Martin’s extradition had racial underpinnings.
“Mr. Alfred Martin’s case is another unfortunate example of an ugly fact in American life: for far too long African-Americans have received disproportionately harsh sentences for minor criminal acts, especially in the South,” Conyers said.