Florida board reconsiders parole for 'prison Houdini'

AP News
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Posted: Jul 13, 2016 4:51 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida parole officials say they want to help a man described as an autistic savant and a "prison Houdini," whose troubles behind bars have turned a four-year theft sentence into a virtual life term.

Mark DeFriest, 55, was convicted 36 years ago of stealing the tools his father had bequeathed to him. His time was extended because he kept escaping. He has served that Florida time out of state since testifying about guards beating a prisoner to death years ago.

Florida Parole officials voted in 2014 to reduce his remaining sentence, but bureaucratic mix-ups left him in solitary confinement in Oregon, in a prison that houses some of the worst offenders. More miscommunication delayed his release until Aug. 23. And now, new disciplinary issues threaten to keep him behind bars.

Two of the three Florida parole board members agreed Wednesday to try to speed his transfer from Oregon, under conditions they plan to set on Thursday. And he still must serve at least two years of a four-year sentence in California for having drugs in prison there.

Commissioners Judith Wolson and Melinda Coonrod said they want to find a way to get DeFriest into the California prison system, so he can get care he's not receiving in Oregon. They said he should be released once he completes programs to help with his mental health and re-entry into society.