Jury Acquits Game Warden Killer of Escape
BOISE, Idaho (AP) _ Convicted killer Claude Dallas, who claimed he fled an Idaho prison because he feared guards were out to kill him, was acquitted of an escape that made him one of America’s most wanted fugitives.
″I won’t keep you in suspense, Mr. Dallas. You’ve been acquitted,″ 4th District Judge George Carey told the 37-year-old former wilderness trapper Friday.
Dallas said he cut through fences at Idaho State Penitentiary in March 1986 because he had been told repeatedly by other inmates and some prison employees that his life was in danger.
Dallas has twice led authorities on extensive manhunts, the first after game wardens Conley Elms and Bill Pogue were killed in 1981 when they tried to arrest Dallas for poaching, the second after his escape.
Dallas, sentenced to serve 30 years for the slayings of Elms and Pogue, was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for nearly 10 months before his capture March 8 in Riverside, Calif.
The slayings that led to a 16-month flight from justice, desert shootout and dramatic trial have been the subject of two books, a made-for-telev ision movie and a song.
The 12-member jury deliberated for over five hours after hearing 2 1/2 days of testimony. Three jurors were in tears as Foreman Dell Tredinnick handed the bailiff the verdict.
″You have had a long, hard night, from the looks on your faces, a traumatic night,″ Carey told the jurors.
Dallas smiled widely as the verdict was announced. The judge’s statement was greeted with a gasp from Dallas’ supporters in the courtroom, including his mother Jennie.
″I was getting ready to cry″ when the jury re-entered the courtroom, Mrs. Dallas said. ″Now I don’t have to. It’s wonderful.″
″We’ve shown Mr. Dallas was right in everything he was saying about the system and what it had done to him,″ defense attorney Lance Churchill said after the verdict was announced.
With the evidence of escape irrefutable, Churchill effectively put the prison administration on trial, calling Dallas and a parade of current and former inmates to the stand.
The defense was based on overheard death threats by guards bent on avenging the two game officers’ deaths. Dallas had contended that guards expected a riot in the prison south of Boise, and planned to use it as an excuse to kill him. No riot occurred.
Prosecutor Jim Carlson argued that the threats were vague or were just prison rumors. Guards accused of wanting to kill Dallas denied ever making such comments.
After his second escape, Dallas fled to San Francisco, then to Nevada. He spent four months in Mexico, where he underwent plastic surgery before returning to the United States. He was arrested within a month of his return.
Dallas claimed the shootings of the wardens were in self-defense. The jury in that trial acquitted him of more serious first-degree murder charges before finding him guilty of voluntary manslaughter.