DETROIT — A convicted killer from Arkansas who went to Michigan on a five-day furlough in 1970 but never returned to prison has died in suburban Detroit. Michigan became a sanctuary for Lester Stiggers. He worked at a Chrysler factory and became a plumber, all while under the protection of the state’s governors for decades.
Stiggers, 68, died Saturday at his apartment in Warren, Michigan, probably from a heart attack, daughter L’Donne Hampton told The Associated Press. Stiggers was a teenager when he was convicted of killing his father in Little Rock in the 1960s. He said his father regularly abused him and his mother.
Despite serving a life sentence, Stiggers was given a few days of freedom in 1970 because of good behavior and decided to visit his mother in Michigan. He never returned to Arkansas, however, because he feared he wouldn’t survive beatings by prison guards.
In 1971, Michigan Gov. William Milliken rejected Arkansas’ demand that Stiggers be turned over, citing, in part, “cruel and unusual treatment” of black men in southern prisons. Stiggers made headlines in 2013 when Arkansas suddenly took a fresh interest in getting him back. But Michigan’s current governor, Rick Snyder, noted his poor health and said it wasn’t the “highest priority.”
“I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t do nothin’,” Stiggers told the AP at the time, summing up his life in Michigan. “I walked away from a lot of fights. … They told me to stay out of trouble.”
Indeed, Hampton said Stiggers’ life was simple but satisfying.
“He worked and took care of his family,” she said Wednesday.