Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ex-fugitive, now in jail, needs medicines


When Jack Hazen slipped away from a prison work program in 1976 and disappeared into the North Florida woods, he was a young man of 29.
Today, back in prison after more than three decades as an escapee, he is a sick 61-year-old grandfather fighting to get his medicines for multiple sclerosis and other serious ailments while he's been behind bars in Florida.

Hazen, who assumed the name Charlie Free for more than three decades in Las Vegas after his escape, went for a week in a Florida prison without his M.S. medicine, said his attorney, Don Pumphrey, Jr., of Tallahassee.

''We were having problems getting his medicines to him, which I think I have now resolved,'' Pumphrey said Friday. ``They pushed the paperwork through so I think he can finally start getting the pills he needs.''

Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said she can't comment directly on an inmate's medical situation due to privacy laws but she said Hazen had contacted the department about some issues.

''We have a constitutional duty to provide appropriate care for our inmates and that's what we do,'' she said. ``Any concerns or complaints will be looked into.''


Pumphrey visited Hazen in his solitary confinement cell at North Florida's Lake Butler Reception and Medical Center on Thursday, the same prison Hazen ran away from 32 years earlier.

'He's not trying to get out of something. He's saying, `I know what I did was wrong. I need to repay it. I just don't want to die in prison,' '' Pumphrey said.

Hazen, a Vietnam War veteran, married and raised a family in Las Vegas under the name Charlie Free, which he says he got from a student ID he found shortly after he absconded. His wife and daughters knew nothing of his other life until police knocked at their door. A Florida Department of Corrections cold-case squad tracked him down; department officials won't say what led them to the Las Vegas home.

According to the police report from the 1975 crime, Hazen robbed a Pompano Beach 7-Eleven clerk at knife point, stealing more than $100 from the cash register. When police arrested him shortly after the crime, he told the officer: ``I did it because I was hungry.''

Hazen spent about 10 months in prison before he walked away from a Union County prison carpentry shop.

In addition to multiple sclerosis, Hazen has suffered from a brain tumor that was partially removed, plus diabetes and early onset Alzheimer's, his family has said.

Corrections officials have already made one concession to his fading health -- they flew him to Florida on April 4, rather than driving him. He had been held in a Las Vegas jail since his Jan. 30 arrest. Gov. Charlie Crist signed an extradition order in March, returning him to Florida to complete his seven-year sentence.

His family members, who were stunned to find out about his life under a different name, said he had always been an upstanding family man and solid citizen. His daughters have begun a letter-writing campaign to ask Crist to ask the governor to grant expedited clemency to get Hazen out of prison, and they started a website -- -- to help publicize his case.


There's been one stroke of luck for Hazen, Pumphrey said. A Vietnam vet who wants to remain anonymous stepped forward to pay for a lobbyist to help push for clemency with the governor. Pumphrey has already told the family that he is willing to continue his work free of charge if they run out of money for legal costs.

Pumphrey also said Hazen told him that his 28th wedding anniversary was Friday. He can't make any phone calls from prison.

''He asked me if I'd call his wife and tell her that he loves her,'' Pumphrey said.

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