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For Immediate Release

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February 10, 2011 Martin J. Pane, Acting United States Marshal
Middle District of Pennsylvania (570) 346-7277 x 226
U.S. Marshals Bring Final Closure to State Prison Escape Case After More Than 38 Years
Fled SCI Muncy in 1972 while serving a Dauphin County robbery sentence

Williamsport, PA – Acting U.S. Marshal Martin J. Pane announced today that U.S. Marshals in Williamsport have successfully brought closure to the oldest escape case in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Mitlean Wright, a fugitive who was on the run for almost four decades, had been sought for escaping from the State Correctional Institution at Muncy on the evening of August 12, 1972.

During an extensive investigation, the U.S. Marshals discovered Wright died at a Connecticut hospital August 6, 2003. She was 24 at the time of her 1972 escape and 55 when she died.

“The closure of the case against Wright sends a strong message to other fugitives, especially those who have eluded capture for so long,” said Acting U.S. Marshal Martin Pane. “It is vitally important fugitives are caught and held accountable for their actions or, as in this case, proper closure be made on cases where the fugitive is deceased. U.S. Marshals Service Cold Case Fugitive Investigators Alix Fils-Aime and James Cunfer did an outstanding job in locating Wright.”

Wright was serving a five-year prison sentence stemming from robbery charges. She had served only three months at the time of her escape in August 1972.

On May 30, 1972, Wright and another inmate escaped from custody at SCI Muncy. Wright was apprehended within 24 hours and charged in Lycoming County with escape. While facing prosecution on the May 1972 prison break, Wright again escaped from SCI Muncy with two other inmates on August 12, 1972. Wright’s whereabouts were unknown for more than 38 years.

Based upon Wright’s criminal activity during the summer of 1972, she was wanted on two fugitive warrants, one for her second escape and one for failure to appear for trial on her first escape.

In 2007, authorities in Williamsport requested the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service and its Fugitive Task Force in the Middle District of Pennsylvania to investigate the whereabouts of Wright.

“The successful ending of the search for Mitlean Wright, wanted for 38 years, is an example of the value of federal, state, county and local authorities working together,” Pane said. “The U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force in the Middle District of Pennsylvania is dedicated to locating and apprehending those individuals who believe they are able to run and hide without being brought to justice”.

U.S. Marshals treated the fugitive investigation of Wright as a “cold case.” An extensive amount of time was spent reviewing old files, investigative notes and case reports. Wright’s use of many aliases in the past, her lack of established ties to any specific city or state, her lack of contact with any law enforcement since 1972, and her lack of employment history made the investigation very challenging.

U.S. Marshals did not discount or rule out any potential lead on Wright. All pre-existing case information had to be researched and re-analyzed. In March 2010, U.S. Marshals developed information Wright may have spent time in North Carolina. U.S. Marshals in Fayetteville investigated these leads, which met with negative results.

Recently, U.S. Marshals were able to locate previously unknown and unidentified family members. As a result, they developed several new investigative leads. Marshals were able to identify and confirm Wright used the alias Vernell Wright during the last four decades. The investigation also revealed Wright had a severe case of multiple sclerosis. U.S. Marshals identified several medical facilities in Connecticut where Wright had been hospitalized over the years; they confirmed she was bedridden in a hospital the last five years of her life. Wright died August 6, 2003 at The Hospital for Special Care in New Britain, Conn. The immediate cause of death was cardiac failure, due to severe bronchospasm, asthma and multiple sclerosis.

U.S. Marshals in Connecticut conducted interviews of persons who had dealings with Wright and were able to confirm and corroborate many details about Wright’s life from 1972 until her death in 2003.
Here are some highlights from the case:

  • Wright used an alias social security number from the mid 1970s until her death. U.S. Marshals confirmed the fugitive used this alias social security number to receive years of benefits while in medical facilities until her death.
  • Working closely with the Lycoming County Sheriffs Office, U.S. Marshals determined the fugitive had arrests dating back to 1967. During the late 1960s, police in Hartford, Conn., arrested Wright several times on charges of manifesting danger, destruction of private property, disorderly conduct and interfering with police. She used the names of Mitlean Bether and Mitlean Benjamin during these incidents.
  • In January 1971, Wright was charged with possession of stolen property by the Port Chester, New York Police Department. She provided her name as Wanita Hatton during this incident.
  • On November 24, 1971, Wright was charged by the Conrail Police Department in Dauphin County, PA., with aggravated robbery and aiding a prisoner to escape.
  • On December 1, 1971, Wright was arrested in Sheldon, S.C., on the felony charges from Dauphin County, PA. She was charged as a fugitive from justice. When arrested, she was using the name Omonly Shougossine. Wright was extradited to Harrisburg, PA., where she was processed and arraigned on the charges levied by the Conrail Police Department. She was sentenced to five years in state prison.

Personnel from the Lycoming County Sheriffs Office and the Northumberland County Adult Probation Office, two agencies that are active participants in the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, provided significant assistance on this case. The Lycoming County District Attorney’s Office, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and Pennsylvania State Police provided assistance and support to the U.S. Marshals Service.

Additional information about the U.S. Marshals Service can be found at http://www.usmarshals.gov

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