After 43 years, Arkansas wants fugitive back

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 7, 2013 at 1:37 pm •  Published: May 7, 2013
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Milliken's decision to rebuff Arkansas' extradition request was in character for the moderate Republican who held the office from 1969 to 1982. Milliken, a soft-spoken white businessman from the northern Michigan town of Traverse City, built a relationship with Detroit's fiery black mayor, Coleman Young, and boosted state assistance to the city during a time of intense racial strife.

"No purpose would be served now by sending that man back," Milliken, who is now 91, said in an interview. He said he does not remember Stiggers but, "Knowing how distressed I was about the shameful state of race relations in our country, I would have wanted to give that man another chance."

Over the years, Arkansas made more requests for Stiggers' return, but they were unsuccessful.

Michigan's current governor is Republican Rick Snyder. A spokesman, Caleb Buhs, said Snyder has no timeline for reviewing the new request, which came after Stiggers' Social Security benefits put him back on Arkansas' radar.

M. Gerald Schwartzbach, who represented the fugitive years ago in Michigan, says it would be "an enormous tragedy" to incarcerate him now.

"How is this justice?" he asked.

Prisons officials in Arkansas say getting him back behind bars is a matter of principle.

"I understand the argument, 'Well, he's been out for all these years, he hasn't reoffended,'" said Shea Wilson, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Correction. "But the fact still remains that he was convicted of first-degree murder in Arkansas. He served a minimum of his sentence and he has been a fugitive from justice for all these years."

Stiggers may be in trouble. The Supreme Court clarified extradition law in 1987, creating a precedent that forced Michigan to return Phillip Chance, a convicted murderer also given sanctuary by Milliken, to Alabama in 1996.

"To the extent that he deserves mercy, it's up to Arkansas to show mercy. Michigan's hands are tied," said Curt Benson, a law professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Stiggers said he has justified Michigan's faith in him.

"I don't smoke. I don't drink. I don't do nothin'," he said during an hour-long interview. "I walked away from a lot of fights. ... They told me to stay out of trouble."

Stiggers said his wife, Arnetta, died in 2010, and they had no children. He worked as a press operator for Chrysler for five years before becoming a plumber.

Retired, he lives with a companion, Delphine Hopkins, and they help each other keep track of their medications.

"One of us always has a doctor's appointment," she said.

In 43 years, Stiggers said, he's never set foot outside the state he fled to — and he hopes he never will.

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Nuss reported from Tucker, Ark., and White from Warren. Associated Press writer Mike Householder contributed reporting from Warren.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwhiteAP and Jeannie Nuss at http://twitter.com/jeannienuss