ATLANTA — A fugitive who was on the run for 34 years before he was captured says his children never knew about his past.
Willie Lee Austin was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1977 for an armed robbery he says he didn’t commit.
Four years later, in 1981 he says he walked off from a furlough to save the woman he loved.
Austin says the woman was in an abusive relationship.
He took off to Florida where he made a new life with the woman, opening a furniture business and starting a family. He has two kids, a son and a daughter.
But on Aug. 5, that new life came to an end when he was captured and brought to Dooly State Prison.
“You make one bad decision, it don't have to follow you for the rest of your life,” Austin said. “I gotta leave everything that I built and the people that really need me. I can’t help them no more. It was pretty bad.”
Officials say they never stopped looking for Austin.
He says the day he was captured was the day his children learned that he was a wanted fugitive.
“My daughter didn't know until the day I called her to come get my jewelry and stuff like that from the marshal,” he said.
Austin’s lawyer says he deserves to be released now that he has been re-captured.
She says a key issue is whether the parole guidelines from 1981 apply to Austin's situation or the much more severe guidelines for those convicted recently of his crime. But she says another issue is whether he should be treated as the man he was or the man he has become.
“What’s relevant is Mr. Austin’s ability to successfully reenter society,” Sara Becker said.
Austin says he’s already done that.
“I became involved in every charity I could get in. I donated to the police department. I donated to women in distress,” he said.
He says he’s kept his nose clean and never been arrested or in trouble with the law since that day.
“If I was a bad person I believe I owe society, but if I did what God asked me to do, and I did good deeds in life then I think somebody should recognize me for the good I do, not just for the bad I do,” he said.
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