LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Wednesday defended his request to have a 63-year-old fugitive returned from Michigan, even though the convicted killer is in poor health.
Beebe told The Associated Press he wasn't aware of Lester Stiggers' health issues when he sought to have him brought back to the Arkansas prison system he fled in 1970.
"We can't pick and choose which laws that we like and which laws that we don't like," Beebe told the AP. "And once the Department of Correction was given information about his whereabouts, and ... they requested me to sign an extradition warrant, then that's my duty and that's the law and that's what we did."
Stiggers was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing his father as a teenager in 1965. When he was granted a five-day leave from prison for good behavior, he headed to Michigan, where his mother lived. He's been there ever since — thanks to a governor who, in 1971, refused to send him back to Arkansas and its then-notorious prison system.
The AP recently found Stiggers living in a one-bedroom apartment along a busy road in the Detroit suburb of Warren, Mich. He gets by on $700 a month in Social Security benefits, usually making trips outside only to see a doctor. He needs an inhaler and 10 pills a day for his diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments. A stocky man with thick arms, Stiggers grappled with sewer lines as a plumber until two strokes ended his working days and made his speech difficult to understand.
He was astounded to learn that Arkansas has renewed its efforts to bring him back to prison — more than four decades after then-Gov. William Milliken blocked the state's initial request.
Beebe, a Democrat, sent a letter this year to Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, seeking Stiggers after his Social Security benefits put him back on Arkansas' radar.
State prison officials said they didn't know that Stiggers was sick, either. But Department of Correction spokeswoman Shea Wilson told the AP that it's not the agency's role to make judgments about whether Stiggers should be brought back to Arkansas.
"It's our job to carry out the mandates of the court," Wilson said. "And that's simply what we're doing in our efforts to seek him."
Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said the matter was still under review and "there's not currently a timeframe for when that may be concluded."
Associated Press writer David Eggert contributed reporting from Lansing, Mich., and Ed White contributed reporting from Detroit.
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