Killer given 3 more years

Woman, 55, spent 19 years on the run after Jessup escape

`I have changed a lot'

Her exemplary life while a fugitive leads judge to leniency

June 30, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The woman who killed a Baltimore bar bouncer in 1969 and spent 19 years on the run after breaking out of prison saw three years added to her life-plus-one-year sentence yesterday.

As her tearful family watched, a thin, pale Theresa Grosso, 55, was returned to prison the same way she walked in, smiling at relatives, handcuffed and wearing a neon orange jumpsuit emblazoned with black Division of Correction lettering.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Ronald B. Silkworth said he was showing consideration for the exemplary life Grosso led while a fugitive. But the relatives of her victim were angered that Grosso received clemency for raising a loving family -- something they said she prevented Melvin "Lucky" Luckart, a 29-year-old father, from doing.

The additional three-year sentence fell between the two years sought by Grosso's lawyer, Joshua R. Treem, and the four to eight years recommended by state guidelines. Deputy State's Attorney William Roessler had sought more than two but fewer than 10 years.

Grosso, a former stripper on The Block in Baltimore, said little during the brief hearing.

"I would just like you to take into consideration that I have changed a lot since 1969 and ask you to show some leniency in the sentencing," she said.

She disputed the circumstances of her capture Dec. 1 near Gainesville, Fla., saying that though she is alleged to have tried to buy a pound of marijuana, she was accompanying a friend who was turning her in. She pleaded guilty to escape on April 30.

After the hearing, Grosso's sisters described an abusive childhood and called her life in hiding exemplary, saying it showed that once in a decent environment, Grosso was a good person.

She changed from an LSD-hazed killer lacking direction, goals and respect for authority into a spiritual and kind person, a vegetarian and a devotee of holistic medicine, her attorney said.

Her son, Richard Leno, 18, said he could not reconcile the kind and gentle mother he knew with the killer depicted on "America's Most Wanted" when he was 11 and first learned of his mother's past.

"I can never remember seeing her pass a wounded animal on the side of the road," he said. "For most of my life, she has been the one to help me and comfort me when I needed guidance."

Leno kept his mother's secret, understanding why his education ended with ninth-grade-level home-schooling, why his family seemed different from others, why their homes never had calendars or clocks and why they moved so often.

He and his father, Bill Palm, who in 15 years on the run with Grosso moved 28 times and used five names, said they might move from Arizona to Maryland to be closer to Grosso and work for her parole.

Both men apologized to Shannon Gange of Brooklyn Park, who is married to one of Luckart's nephews and was the only relative of the victim to attend the sentencing.

Leno, born while his mother was on the run, said he wanted to meet the Luckart family, including the victim's elderly parents, and "give them my condolences." Gange offered to forward a letter to Luckart's relatives and said that though she understood their desire to see Grosso free, they needed to understand the Luckart family's resolve to see her remain in prison.

"She's been on the loose for 20 years. My brother never had that opportunity," Bearl Marie Slick, a sister of the victim, said from her home in Florida, where much of the family lives.

Slick said she was not sympathetic to Grosso's plea for leniency. "If she has changed that much, she can be helpful to the women in jail," Slick said.

Grosso could be eligible for a parole hearing in six years, said her lawyer. But it is rare for anyone to win parole on a first hearing, and her history of four escapes from prison is not likely to impress the parole board.

"If I have to come up there with a cane and everything, I will," said Slick, 62.

Charles Luckart, the victim's brother, said he wondered whether Grosso might break out of prison a fifth time. "I don't think they'll be able to hold her, myself. I think she'll just escape again, or try to escape again," he said. Grosso escaped in 1971, 1972 and 1976. The first two were short-lived, but she remained at large for 16 months after the third.

Grosso was convicted of first-degree murder in the Sept. 22, 1969, shooting of Luckart, a bouncer at Judge's Musical Lounge in the 3300 block of Greenmount Ave.

She shot him in the chest point-blank after he asked to see her identification.

Grosso, then 22, had been a stripper using the stage name Bertha. She testified that she was hallucinating on LSD and alcohol and didn't remember shooting anyone.

In her 1979 escape, she cut through a metal screen at a maximum-security cottage at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.

She tied together bedsheets and lowered herself 25 feet from a second-story window, then climbed a 15-foot-high fence topped with two rows of barbed wire.

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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