Published on Thursday, June 29, 2000 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
U.S. Fugitive Back In Jail After 29 Years
Clemency for Richardson, a 20-year resident of B.C., would 'send the wrong message': judge
by Timothy Appleby
ROCHESTER, NY - For nearly 30 years, U.S. fugitive Allen Richardson lived an exemplary life in West Vancouver, hoping he would be spared a return to the brutal prison system he fled as a young man.

Allen Richardson, center SHAWN DOWD
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

A handcuffed Allen Richardson, a 1971 fugitive, is escorted into Monroe County Court Wednesday.

In Circuit Court here yesterday, that hope was dashed when it was ruled that Mr. Richardson's four-year jail term for a minor drug offence in his home state of New York would not be reversed or reduced.

Instead, Judge John Connell ordered Mr. Richardson, now 50, back into custody to continue serving his 1971 prison sentence, imposed for selling $20 worth of LSD to an undercover police officer.

Granting clemency, the judge said in a ruling that left Mr. Richardson's wife, Amalia, in tears, would "send the wrong message."

The judge agreed that for a man of Mr. Richardson's character, prison would serve no purpose. He also acknowledged that in his own court, a similar offence today would earn no more than a probation term.

"But my role goes beyond what I would do," the judge said, adding that there was nothing illegal or cruel about the four-year term.

The decision was a harsh blow for the Richardsons, who earlier in the day flew from Toronto to Rochester after negotiating Mr. Richardson's surrender.

U.S. authorities were waiting on the airport tarmac when the small twin-engine Beechcraft touched down. Mr. Richardson was conducted to court in handcuffs.

In a tearful plea, Mrs. Richardson urged the judge to let her husband return to Canada, where he has led a productive, crime-free life for more than 20 years, working as a technician with Triumf, an acclaimed physics laboratory attached to the University of British Columbia.

More than 100 letters from his employer, friends, neighbours and co-workers attesting to the fugitive's good character accompanied the Richardsons' plea for mercy.

The British-born Mrs. Richardson, fighting breast cancer for 12 years, told the court, "He's the only real support I have; without him I would be bereft."

But the judge was unswayed and he upheld his written ruling last year that the original prison sentence must stand.

Mr. Richardson was to be taken to the Fishkill Reception Facility, an hour's drive north of New York City, to be processed.

From there, his lawyer, Michael Kennedy, said outside the court, he will be transferred to a medium-security prison.

Mr. Kennedy voiced disappointment at the outcome. But he was optimistic his client would be released within a few months, pointing out that although Mr. Richardson has only served six months, his sentence ran from zero to four years, meaning parole eligibility can begin at any time.

In theory, Mr. Richardson could be given additional prison time for the escape. But Mr. Kennedy gave no indication he expected that to happen. "This is the beginning of the end of a saga for Allen Richardson," he said.

"I'll be surprised if, within a very short period of time, Mr. Richardson is not returned to Canada."

Mr. Richardson's troubles with the law began in 1971, when he was known as Christopher Perlstein.

In March, 1971, he was handed a prison term of up to four years for selling seven LSD tablets to an undercover agent at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he was studying photography.

To this day, he and his supporters are certain the sentence was reflective of Mr. Perlstein's reputation as a campus radical active in the struggle against the Vietnam War.

At first, he was incarcerated in the infamous Attica federal prison, a maelstrom of physical and sexual brutality; a few months later he was transferred to a minimum-security forestry camp.

In the meantime, a riot had erupted in Attica, leaving 43 dead.

Told he would be returned to Attica, Mr. Perlstein walked out of the prison camp and fled to Canada with help from the Toronto draft dodgers network. He assumed a new name, moved to Vancouver and began a new life.