Ronald Tackman has spent much of his adult life behind bars. And trying to get out of them.
While serving a prison term on robbery convictions in the 1980s, he briefly commandeered a bus full of inmates by brandishing a fake gun carved out of soap, and months later fired a makeshift pistol fashioned from soda cans at officers who were taking him to court.
Then, when he was locked up again on robbery charges in 2009, came at once his most brazen and subtle bust-out ever. While awaiting a hearing, the nattily dressed Tackman slipped out of a holding area in a Manhattan courthouse, passed himself off as a lawyer and strolled to freedom that ultimately lasted only 36 hours.
Now Tackman, 57, is now headed back to prison for what may well be the rest of his life. He was sentenced Thursday to 28 years to life in prison for the September 2009 courthouse escape and the five store holdups and an attempted robbery that had brought him to court that day.
Dressed in the bright orange jumpsuit city jails use to denote high-risk prisoners, his feet and hands shacked, Tackman asked for the minimum 16 years-to-life sentence and to have the constitutionality of the charges against him "certified."
"If I bought a painting from Sotheby's, it would be certified authentic. ... The laws of America must be certified. They are much more valuable than a painting," he said.
His sentence caps a case that shut down the busy courthouse for nearly an hour after his escape, led embarrassed city corrections officials to review security and added a new chapter to the lawless but colorful tale of a serial stickup suspect who sported fake noses and phony firearms, authorities said.
"He is charming. He's reasonably intelligent, engaging, perceptive and he has an amazing sense of humor," his lawyer, Joseph Heinzmann, said after the sentencing, noting that Tackman wasn't accused of injuring anyone. "He's somebody you would enjoy having a beer with, definitely."
Not if you're Manhattan assistant district attorney Charles Whitt. He told a judge that Tackman's saga was "a tale of two people.
"One person is a streetwise man that talks himself out of situations all the time, despite having little formal education. The other person is a devious, manipulative, conniving robber, con man and thief," Whitt said.
Tackman has a rap sheet dating at least to 1978. He has spent decades in prison, including a stretch from 1985 to 2006 after his two earlier escape efforts.
The soap-gun episode, in April 1985, came as he was being bused to upstate prison. He locked two correction officers and three other inmates in the back of the bus and drove back to Manhattan, where they tackled him after he agreed to pull over and release the inmates, according to a city Department of Correction report.
Five months later, he fired his handmade gun at two correction officers as he was being driven to a Manhattan court date, according to an indictment. He apparently didn't anticipate that the double-barreled makeshift weapon, which used barbecue charcoal and other material in place of gunpowder, would fire both his shots at once, and the officers soon got the upper hand, his lawyer said.
He was convicted of the bus escape and pleaded guilty to weapon possession in the later episode.
Within a year after he was freed in 2006, he began robbing anew, holding up a women's clothing store, a pizzeria, an ice cream shop and other businesses in Manhattan, displaying toy guns and generally making off with a few hundred dollars each time, authorities said. He also was accused of holding up a sandwich shop in Queens, but that case was ultimately dismissed.
Police said he later told them he needed money to buy drugs.
Dressed in a business suit, Tackman was going to a court date in the Manhattan cases when he slipped black socks over his tell-tale orange canvas jail shoes and took another shot at escaping.
He got out of a courthouse holding area, where he was mingling with about a dozen other defendants, and trotted down a flight of stairs to a locked area behind a courtroom. A court officer spotted him and, thinking he was a lawyer, asked him what he was doing there and let him out into the public part of the building. Tackman walked unnoticed out the courthouse's heavily guarded front door around 9 a.m.
He was caught the next day getting off a city bus, carrying a fake passport, wigs, phony beards, $4,000 and four gun-shaped cigarette lighters, authorities said.
"Now you must pay a severe, but entirely justifiable, penalty" for the string of crimes, state Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers told him Thursday.
Heinzmann said Tackman plans to appeal his robbery and attempted robbery convictions. He pleaded guilty to the escape.
In the meantime, he'll likely be held in a maximum-security prison, where the state puts all offenders considered escape risks.
Jennifer Peltz can be reached at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz