Fugitive wanted in Florida released from
Taney County Jail on bond
Florida authorities outraged about judge’s decision.
Kary Booher • News-Leader • December 22, 2009
A Florida fugitive recently captured after living the past 26 years in the Branson area — he even befriended the owners of Silver Dollar City — is out on bond from the Taney County jail.
And Florida authorities are livid. Hours after holding a news conference in Tampa touting the capture of Oscar Eugene Richardson, Florida officials expressed outrage at Taney County Circuit Court Judge Tony Williams’ decision to set bond for the two-time armed robber.
Known locally as Eugene Ward and called “a model citizen” by Taney County Sheriff Jimmie Russell, the 61-year-old Richardson was arrested without incident Saturday at his home in Ridgedale, just north of the Missouri-Arkansas line.
Richardson had been on the lam since 1979, when he escaped a Kissimmee, Fla., work release facility. He had eight years left on a 10-year sentence for two gun heists.
But Richardson posted a pair of $12,500 bonds Monday, Russell confirmed late in the day.
“I am shocked and extremely disappointed by the irresponsible decision of Judge Tony Williams to allow Oscar Richardson to post bond,” Gerald M. Bailey, commissioner of Florida Department of Law Enforcement, wrote in an e-mail sent through that agency. “Allowing this fugitive to walk out of a courtroom after hiding from authorities for 30 years diminishes the seriousness of his crimes and shows a lack of sensitivity for those he victimized and a disregard for the safety of the citizens of Taney County.”
Bailey went on.
“We are working closely with Missouri authorities to aggressively pursue Richardson’s extradition to Florida,” Bailey wrote. “His debt to our state remains unpaid.”
It was not immediately clear who bonded Richardson or how he would be returned to Florida.
Judge Williams could not be reached for comment, and the Taney County jail referred questions to Terry Schade, the jail administrator. Schade left for the day after 4 p.m.
The Taney County prosecutor’s office objected in court to having any bond set.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement recently dusted off old cases and included Richardson among its “12 Days in Fugitives” program, designed to have friends and relatives of escaped convicts to come forward with information if they phoned during the holidays.
His crimes date back to the late 1970s.
On Jan. 28, 1977, Richardson held two Eckerd Drug Store employees at gunpoint and demanded money from the store safe, according to the FDLE Web site.
Fourteen months later, Richardson robbed a Tampa convenience store and held the store clerk at gunpoint, demanding she fill the bag with money, also according to FDLE Web site.
But Florida officials got their first big breakthrough last week thanks to a couple of tips and then on Thursday summoned the Southwest Missouri Fugitive Task Force.
Led by the local U.S. Marshals office, the group performed computer searches and home surveillance, said Kelly Palmer, supervisory deputy with the local U.S. Marshals office.
Meanwhile, those whom Richardson befriended over the years remained stunned Monday.
“He’s been a model citizen,” said Russell, the Taney County sheriff. “And a lot of other people would think that of him.”
Richardson had been living in Branson for 26 years, according to Kristen Chernosky, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Richardson spent most of those years performing handyman and household work for Jack and Pete Hershend, owners of Silver Dollar City, the theme park’s spokeswoman, Lisa Rau said.
He was never a theme park employee, though, Rau said.
Russell said sheriff’s deputies knew Richardson as the owner of a lawn care business.
Florida officials do not know when Richardson changed his name or where he lived prior to moving to the Branson area.
He had been in a long-term relationship and is the father of an adult child, Chernosky said.
If Florida authorities retake custody of him, Richardson will be required to serve out that sentence but also is expected to face an additional charge for escape, with prosecutors to seek between five to 15 years, said Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections.
At the time of Richardson’s escape, Florida’s work release program was not as strict as it is today. Now Florida inmates are eligible for the program only with 14 months or less to go in their sentence.
“Today, he would have never been eligible for work release,” Plessinger said.
Because the case is now 30 years old, exact details of Richardson’s escape have been hard to come by among Florida law enforcement officials.
It’s not known how he escaped exactly other than that Richardson “he simply walked away from the center,” Plessinger said.