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Federal fugitive returns to Wilson County
Jul 14, 2005 12:00 am
July 12, 2005
Local authorities today begin a 1,200-mile round trip journey to return a once-feared federal fugitive to Wilson County, where he faces six charges resulting from the abduction and assault of a local store clerk last year.
The officers were slated to leave close to daybreak en route to a Florida federal correction facility where Michael Ellsworth Sheppard, 53, has been held for several months, authorities said.
Sheppard already had at least one rape conviction on his record in July 2004 when he went on a crime spree stretching from East Tennessee to the Linwood Road exit of Interstate 40, where he abducted a store clerk at gunpoint, setting off a massive manhunt that ended when the suspect abruptly released his victim and surrendered in the Callis Road area of Highway 109.
Sheppard was already being sought by federal authorities for a string of carjackings, kidnappings and assaults in East Tennessee when he abducted the clerk on duty at the Linwood BP at gunpoint in a scene vividly captured on the store's video system.
Sheriff Terry Ashe – who at the time of the incident called the suspect "a living, walking nightmare" – said Sheppard could undergo a local court appearance by the end of the week.
Until Sheppard goes before a judge, however, the suspect will remain in the Wilson County Jail, which has remained at 200-percent capacity for the past week. Ashe explained the overcapacity is not an uncommon state for the frequently overcrowded jail during the past 18 months.
As a result, jail guards will be unable to "isolate" Sheppard and instead will be forced to house him inside a cell with another inmate.
"It's going to cause us enormous problems, if for no other reason because we don't have any way of isolating any prisoners anymore," Ashe said. "Plus, you have to consider him a major, major escape risk. This is a guy that's already looking at life in prison and still facing more on top of that. If he sees a chance to run, you can bet he'll take it."
Though a detective has been assigned to accompany a patrol officer on the 600-mile one-way trip, the sheriff said there will be little officials can provide in the way of additional security once Sheppard is inside the jail.
"Once he's here we'll do the best we can with him," Ashe said. "There's no question in my mind that he's as big of an escape risk as we're likely to run across anytime soon."
A local grand jury met in special session just days after Sheppard's capture to indict him on a half-dozen charges. However, he has faced no court action locally because of the numerous federal charges he has been forced to answer over the past year, officials have said.
Locally he is charged with aggravated armed robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, theft by possession and three counts of aggravated rape. He also continues to have several federal charges pending in East Tennessee and western North Carolina including assault, kidnapping and carjacking.
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at email@example.com.