LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A request to return a 63-year-old fugitive to Arkansas is not a high priority, Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday, citing the convicted killer's poor health and saying he has caused no trouble in Michigan.
"I have heard of the situation but I haven't spent time on it because my understanding is this person is not a threat to public safety in Michigan at this point in time," the Republican governor said in response to a question about Lester Stiggers from The Associated Press during a bill signing.
"So in terms of prioritizing it, I wouldn't say it's the highest priority I have on the desk. This person's been living in our state in a peaceful fashion and (is) fairly elderly and has significant health problems," he said.
Stiggers was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing his father as a teenager in 1965. When he was granted a five-day leave from prison for good behavior, he headed to Michigan, where his mother lived. He has been there ever since — thanks to a governor who, in 1971, refused to send him back to Arkansas and its prison system, known at the time for brutality and horrific conditions.
The AP recently found Stiggers living in a one-bedroom apartment along a busy road in the Detroit suburb of Warren. He gets by on $700 a month in Social Security benefits, usually making trips outside only to see a doctor. He needs an inhaler and 10 pills a day for his diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments.
A stocky man with thick arms, Stiggers grappled with sewer lines as a plumber until two strokes ended his working days and made his speech difficult to understand.
He was astounded to learn that Arkansas has renewed its efforts to bring him back to prison, more than four decades after then-Michigan Gov. William Milliken blocked the state's initial request.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, sent a letter this year to Snyder requesting Stiggers' return after his Social Security benefits put him back on Arkansas' radar.
Beebe and state prison officials said Wednesday they did not know that Stiggers was sick. But Department of Correction spokeswoman Shea Wilson said it is not the agency's role to make judgments about whether Stiggers should be brought back to Arkansas.
"It's our job to carry out the mandates of the court," Wilson said. "And that's simply what we're doing in our efforts to seek him."
Email David Eggert at deggert(at)ap.org and follow him at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00