A Tennessee judge, who was freed from prison while appealing his sexual-assault conviction, is now a fugitive, pleading by mail to be spared what he called a virtual death sentence.
The fugitive, David W. Lanier, 62, was convicted in 1992 of federal civil rights charges in sexual assaults on women who were either his employees or had cases before him when he was a chancery court judge in the northwestern town of Dyersberg.
He served two years and four months of a 25-year sentence before he was released in 1995 when the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals set aside his conviction, ruling that the federal charges had been improperly brought.
In March, the Supreme Court directed the circuit court to reconsider that appeal and the appellate court ordered Lanier to go back to prison in the meantime. The appellate court gave him until noon Aug. 22 to surrender to the U.S. marshal in Memphis.
Lanier did not appear and has been missing since. Thursday, the appeals court in Cincinnati received a rambling, 11-page motion from Lanier with a Dallas postmark, asking them not to send him back to prison. That motion was denied.
“After spending 2 years, 4 months, 10 days and 3 hours in the life-threatening circumstances of a medium-security federal prison,” Lanier’s motion read, “with some of the worst criminals in the world, there is no doubt in my mind that it is a death sentence for me to go back into that system.”
He also said: “If you do not reconsider your order to put me back in prison, my blood will be on your hands and on your conscience for the remainder of your lives. At my age, I may only have a few months or years to live and I want to die on the side of law and order and not as a fugitive from the U.S. Government.”
David Stanton, chief deputy of the marshal’s office in Memphis, said: “I guess he got a taste of being locked up and didn’t like it. I think he feels desperate and doesn’t want to go back. I can kind of understand it at his age.”
He said that although the letter received on Thursday had a Dallas postmark, “we knew he had friends and relatives in Dallas.” Stanton added: “And he may have mailed the motion to someone there, and they mailed it to Cincinnati. As each day goes by, we are closing the net on him.”
Still, if the net does not close within the next several weeks, Stanton said they may go to a television show such as “America’s Most Wanted” or “Unsolved Mysteries” for help.