After 20 years, freedom nears Judge orders parole for Isaacs, 36, who took part in deadly '73 rampage

October 21, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A former Baltimore County man who has spent two decades behind bars for his role in a crime spree that culminated in one of the most notorious mass slayings in U.S. history is poised for his release from a Maryland prison.

As a Cub Hill teen-ager in 1973, William C. "Billy" Isaacs joined his fugitive brother and half-brother on a two-week road trip that included stops to murder a high school senior near Cumberland and six members of a Georgia farm family. Yesterday, he moved a step closer to freedom when Baltimore Circuit Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe directed state officials to draw up conditions for his parole.

Isaacs, who turned 36 Monday, went to court to complain that Maryland officials had improperly rescinded a 1991 agreement that he be released on parole. In response, Judge Bothe accused state officials of trying to keep Isaacs in prison because tentative agreements allowing him to live in other states, under the supervision of authorities there, had fallen through.

"It was only when they had to accept him as a Maryland parolee that they contrived reasons he should not be paroled," she said. "Apparently, no state wants him."

Isaacs told the court that he plans to move in with his brother and sister-in-law on Maryland's Eastern Shore when released. He said he would seek employment as a construction worker.

also enjoy working with troubled youths, juveniles, which I did for four years in Georgia," Isaacs said.

Isaacs was 15 when his 19-year-old brother, Carl J. Isaacs, his 26-year-old half-brother, Wayne C. Coleman, and 35-year-old George E. Dungee escaped from the minimum-security Poplar Hill correctional camp in Wicomico County on May 9, 1973. A day later, he joined the fugitives on what became a murderous rampage through nine states in the mid-Atlantic region and the Southeast.

After allegedly committing a series of car thefts and burglaries in Baltimore County and telling hitchhiking teen-age girls that they would kill any police officer who tried to arrest them, the fugitives traveled to Western Maryland, where they became suspects in the disappearance of the high school student.

Within a week of the escape, the fugitives were suspects in the slayings of six members of the Georgia family. Five of the victims had been shot execution-style in the head in the family's rural mobile home. The nude body of the sixth victim, a 25-year-old woman, was found six miles away. Police said she had been tortured and raped before being killed.

The suspects were captured three days later in West Virginia.

Billy Isaacs evaded murder charges in the Georgia killings by agreeing to testify against his co-defendants. He pleaded guilty to burglary and kidnapping charges and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

The three escapees were sentenced to death in 1974 in the Georgia killings, but a federal appeals court, citing excessive pretrial publicity, overturned the convictions in 1985. All three were again convicted, but only Carl Isaacs was sentenced to death. He remains on death row in Georgia.

The killings were described as "the most heinous crime in Georgia" by Jimmy Carter, then the state's governor. The crime spree became the subject of two books and a 1988 movie, "Murder One."

In the Maryland case that stemmed from the murder of the high school student, Billy Isaacs was sentenced to 60 years in prison, to be served concurrently with the Georgia sentence. He was granted parole in absentia in 1991, on the condition that he be supervised in Georgia.

But he wanted to be allowed to move to Wisconsin, where his wife lives. Officials there, citing Isaacs' "extensive, assaultive criminal history," rejected that plan last year.

By February 1993, he had served enough time to earn his mandatory release from the Georgia sentence, but Georgia officials refused to supervise his parole because "public out rage is such that a plan to reside in Georgia after release from prison is deemed inappropriate for Isaacs."

Maryland then rescinded Isaacs' parole, and after his February release from a Georgia prison he was transferred to Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown. He received another parole hearing in April but was turned down.

Yesterday, Franklin M. Johnson Jr., a lawyer in the Legal Aid Bureau's Prisoner Assistance Project, told Judge Bothe that Isaacs should be paroled in Maryland.

George A. Eichhorn III, an assistant attorney general representing the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, argued that the parole offer was void because Georgia rejected supervision and because the Wisconsin transfer had never been approved by the state parole board.

Noting that Isaacs probably would have been paroled if he were a typical prisoner who had served 20 years of a 60-year term, Judge Bothe told Mr. Eichhorn to see that conditions for Isaacs' parole were drawn up within a week.

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