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Oklahoma City man won't face extortion charges in case involving Maryland prison escapee

by Silas Allen Published: November 20, 2013

An Oklahoma City man won't face criminal charges after an investigation stemming from a case involving a Maryland prison escapee.

Prosecutors didn't find sufficient evidence to charge Joe Byrd, a founding member of the Belle Isle Lions Club, said Scott Rowland, the Oklahoma County first assistant district attorney.

Anthony Rackley, a former Lions Club fundraiser, told police Byrd had blackmailed him after Rackley told Byrd he'd escaped from prison in Maryland in 1980. Oklahoma City police arrested Rackley, 62, Nov. 4 after Rackley called police to report being the victim of extortion.

In the 33 years since his escape, Rackley had assumed the name Jack Watson after he escaped, and had been making a living raising money for the Belle Isle Lions Club. Rackley told police he kept 70 percent of any money he raised for the club, Byrd received 10 percent and the club received the remaining money.

Rackley told police he told Byrd about 10 years ago that he was a fugitive. He told police Byrd initially said he didn't care about Rackley's status, but later told Rackley he wanted a larger share of the money they raised.

Rackley said Byrd continued to demand larger and larger shares of the money until Rackley decided to turn the man in and risk being sent back to prison himself.

Decision is welcome

Beverly Willard, Byrd's daughter, said the news that Byrd wouldn't be prosecuted was welcome. Willard also serves as the president of the Belle Isle Lions Club.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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