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.
“This is such good news,” Willard said. “We've been waiting on this.”
Willard, who knew Rackley under his assumed name of Jack Watson, said some tension had developed between the fundraiser and the club in recent months. Byrd cut off Rackley's access to the club's bank account after noticing the club's bank statements didn't match up with other records, she said.
Rackley confronted Byrd about the money, pushing Byrd against a wall and punching and kicking Byrd's car, Willard said.
Byrd became shocked and depressed after learning that he was being investigated, Willard said.
“It's so hard on him,” Willard said. “We really trusted Jack. We really put a lot of faith in what he did.”
Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Rackley walked away from a vocational training facility on July 11, 1980.
Once he is extradited back to Maryland, Rackley could be required to complete the remaining six years of his sentence, or he could be paroled within a few months, Vernarelli said. He may also face escape charges, Vernarelli said.