Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A daughter pleads for mercy

Terminally ill convict wants to return home to U.S. to die

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They want to take him home to die when they return to the United States on Monday, but that's highly unlikely.

There is nothing on the books in Canada that allows a cancer-ridden Ian Jackson "Whitey" Macdonald to cut short his two-years-less-a-day conditional sentence, a term he's serving for his part in an international dope-smuggling scheme shut down by RCMP in 1980.

"It's an over 30-year-old case. He's sick. He's dying, and I think he needs to go home," his daughter Lisa Alexander said Thursday.

"There needs to be compassion here. I don't understand why they would hold him here."

Macdonald, 73, is confined mostly to a bed at Fred Douglas Lodge. His medical records show he suffers from prostate cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and the slow loss of his mind. In the past five months, he's lost almost 50 pounds.

Thirty years ago, he became Winnipeg's most famous fugitive when he was arrested in Florida for running a series of deals in which he'd ship 15-kilogram bales of marijuana to Canada through a network of associates. The drugs were from Colombia.

The same case saw then-MLA Bob Wilson arrested, impeached and kicked out of office -- the first and only time that's happened in Manitoba -- for his part in the scheme. Wilson was convicted by a jury and sentenced to seven years in prison.

To this day, Wilson claims he was innocent and wrongly convicted.

But before Macdonald could be sent back to Canada to be prosecuted, he escaped.

In January 2011, U.S. marshals tracked him to Homosassa, Fla., where he was living with his wife under the name Jack Hunter.

He was arrested and returned to Canada, where he pleaded guilty on Sept. 7, 2011.

Because of his poor health, he was sent to a nursing home.

Since his capture, he's reunited with his children, who hadn't seen him since 1980.

Alexander and her sister, Kelly Weiss, who both live in the U.S., say visiting their dad is heart-breaking because his health is quickly deteriorating.

They've appealed to Canadian and American authorities, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to allow him to return to his Pennsylvania home.

"He has about 10 months left in the nursing home," Alexander said.

"I don't think he's going to make it. I believe everybody needs compassion. This is a humanitarian situation."

Because Macdonald is serving a conditional sentence, there are no allowances under Canadian law for an early release.

Alexander said she believes Canada can grant her father clemency and release him. But she has to prove Macdonald can cross the border and that the U.S. will accept him.

She said it's a lengthy process and her father doesn't have that much time.

"There's not time for red tape," she said.

Alexander also produced a document that shows in the late 1970s, her father was an informant with the U.S. Customs Service, providing "reliable information in the area of large-scale narcotics smuggling."

The letter, addressed to the director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Miami, was written by Michael Wewers, now retired from the U.S. Customs Service, on behalf of an investigator to whom Macdonald reported.

Alexander said this information, unknown to Canadian authorities until now, shows her father was a police agent and should have never been arrested in the first place, let alone convicted and put under house arrest.

Wewers, now an ordained minister, said he could not comment on what information Macdonald passed on to authorities, but the convict should be released on compassionate grounds.

"As a compassionate Christian, I agree that he should be allowed to come back, spend whatever days he has left in Pennsylvania and quietly go away," Wewers said, adding Macdonald had led a law-abiding life until he was arrested in 2011.

"He's been reunited with his children and I understand they have some mixed emotions because of his activities, but it sounds like they've forgiven him.

"And after 30 years of not breaking the law, now dying of cancer, why can't he just go home and die?"

 

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2012 A3

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