Tennessee releases longtime fugitive Freshwater

Margo Freshwater (File Photo)
Margo Freshwater (File Photo)

(AP) - A woman who was convicted of murder, escaped a prison and had a family while living under an alias in Ohio for 32 years was released Tuesday from a jail in Memphis, Tenn., her attorney said.

Margo Freshwater entered a plea agreement while awaiting a retrial, leading to the release. She lived in Ohio under the name Tonya Hudkins McCartor before she was arrested in a Columbus parking lot in 2002 and returned to prison.

Her attorney, Stephen Ross Johnson, said her family was there when Freshwater was released from jail Tuesday morning, although he declined to give details about the reunion.

In a statement she said she's "thankful beyond words" to be reunited with the family she made while on the lam - four children and seven grandchildren, two of whom met her only during prison visits.

"Our family is going to take some time to be together before we make any plans about anything," she said. "It's a new and wonderful day."

Johnson said Freshwater served about 12 ½ years in prison total - about three years prior to her escape and another nine years afterward.

"She has always maintained her innocence, even when she was first arrested," Johnson said. "The true measure of her character was evidenced by her life after she escaped."

Johnson said Freshwater was just 18 at the time of the crimes and was clearly manipulated by a much older man.

In an account disputed by her family, prosecutors alleged Freshwater had an affair with an attorney 20 years older than her and joined him in a robbery and killing spree that left three people dead in three states. Freshwater denied killing anyone but said she did as she was told by the attorney because he had threatened to kill her.

The attorney was judged insane by courts in all three states and was confined to psychiatric hospitals until 1983.

Freshwater petitioned for a new trial shortly after returning to prison, claiming authorities received a statement from a jailhouse informant that proved she was innocent. She entered a "best interest" guilty plea last week in Memphis in the 1966 shooting death of liquor store clerk Hillman Robbins.

She was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The plea sets aside her previous first-degree murder conviction, credits her for time served and allows her to maintain her innocence.

"You meet her, you know there's no way that she could ever do anything like what they say she did," one of her sons, Tim Hudkins, said Monday.

Daryl McCartor said Monday evening he was looking forward to holding his wife's hand and carrying her across the threshold of her new home in central Ohio.

"I knew God wouldn't have put us together just to keep us apart," he said.

A message was left Tuesday with a prosecutor who handled the case.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)