2 Radical Fugitives Wanted by FBI Surrender

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Two radical fugitives accused of buying plastic explosives in a plot to help a Puerto Rican separatist leader escape from federal prison surrendered to FBI agents in Chicago on Tuesday after spending nine years living under disguised identities.

Trailed by lawyers and family members, Claude Daniel Marks, 45, and Donna Jean Willmott, 44, gave themselves up to FBI agents at federal offices in Chicago. They were handcuffed and taken to the Illinois Metro Correctional Center and later ordered held without bail by U.S. District Judge James D. Moran.

Once linked to the Weather Underground and other domestic terrorist groups, Marks and Willmott eked out uneventful lives in Pittsburgh, showing none of the outward trappings of their old militancy, according to their lawyers. They raised families and worked under assumed names. Marks, once described as an expert in martial arts and weapons, even coached a Little League baseball team.

"After nearly a decade, we have chosen to come forward in order to resolve our legal situation," Marks and Willmott said in a statement released by their lawyers. "First challenged to activism by the movements of the Sixties, both of us have spent all our adult lives working to change the injustices that are a part of the very fabric of society."

Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers said the pair, who remained on the FBI's Ten Most-Wanted list for years after disappearing in Los Angeles in 1985, came forward under a tentative plea bargain worked out with the government.

Under the agreement, the pair would plead guilty to charges stemming from the aborted escape attempt, resulting in a maximum of 10 years in prison for Marks and a five-year term for Willmott, if approved in court.

Marks smiled and waved at family members as he entered a federal courtroom before the start of an afternoon bail hearing. A clean-shaven man in dark trousers and casual shoes, he had shed the furtive, bearded image that long adorned his wanted poster. Willmott, a short woman wearing white running shoes and a sweater, sat nearby, puffing on an inhaler to ease breathing difficulties caused by a lung infection.

Marks' lawyer, Michael Deutsch, said the fugitives decided to come forward because they had grown weary of living "this type of life that has a great uncertainty to it. You're always wondering if you're going to be arrested."

Government lawyers and defense attorneys had been negotiating since last winter in a laborious process hampered by the fugitives' reluctance to deal directly with authorities who continued searching for them.

Marks and Willmott were indicted along with five other radicals in 1986 in an alleged conspiracy to free Oscar Lopez, a leader of the Puerto Rican separatist group FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional) from the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., where he is serving a 55-year sentence.

Marks and Willmott were accused of conspiring to transport plastic explosives after buying 37 pounds of what they believed to be C-4 explosive material in Louisiana in 1985. But the explosives were inert and the salesman turned out to be an undercover agent.

The pair drove to Los Angeles but fled in June, 1985, after discovering a listening device in their car, hidden there by the FBI.

Marks and Willmott were married to others when they fled Los Angeles. Marks has a 9-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter; Willmott has a 4-year-old daughter. Their families became the key obstacle in talks leading to their surrender.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
51°