Attorney Denies Truck-Driving Mother Is Escaped Killer

By CARRIE SPENCER, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Tonya McCartor was hardly hiding.

She and her husband traded shifts driving his tractor-trailer rig cross-country, hauling goods as far as California and Maine.

Before that, she worked in an insurance agency in her suburban Columbus hometown.

But prosecutors say she avoided relatives across town who knew her as Margo Freshwater, convicted of murder at age 21.

Authorities say McCartor is Freshwater, who escaped from a Tennessee prison 32 years ago and made a new life under an assumed name in her native Ohio. For the past two years, she lived in an apartment complex 12 miles from where she grew up.

Her attorney called it a case of mistaken identity and said she will challenge fingerprint evidence and fight extradition to Tennessee.

Authorities said Freshwater, 53, was arrested Sunday at a health club near the airport. Tennessee investigators about a month ago traced her through the alias Tonya Hudkins, McCartor's widowed name for more than a decade before marrying Daryl McCartor in 2000.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said Monday that Freshwater told investigators she moved back to Ohio two weeks after the escape but never contacted her two estranged brothers or an aunt who still lives in the Columbus area.

"She never saw anyone who seemed to recognize her," O'Brien said. "It's uncanny."

She was a bartender, a country club manager and insurance agency worker. She kept her criminal record clean except for minor parking and traffic violations, authorities said. She got a new Social

Security number in Ohio in the early 1970s, according to a search warrant.

But lawyer Richard Piatt said Monday that his client denies being Freshwater.

The woman was denied bail Monday, and Piatt said he will challenge the legality of her arrest at a hearing scheduled for June 18 in Franklin County Municipal Court.

Investigators in Tennessee and Columbus said the woman's three grown children and three grandchildren knew nothing of her former life.

Her current husband, Daryl McCartor, said Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that his life has been "pure hell" since his wife was arrested. He said he supports his wife and was surprised to learn about the allegations against her.

"I feel like that I know my wife well enough to know that she did not ever have the capability of doing that," he said. "And knowing her the time that I have and knowing her children, that that could not have been possible."

Freshwater escaped from the Tennessee Prison for Women on Oct. 4, 1970, along with another woman who was recaptured in the early 1990s, Department of Correction authorities said.

Freshwater had served just 1½ years of a 99-year sentence for the first-degree murder of a Memphis, Tenn., liquor store clerk.

Her brother, Tommy Freshwater, 52, who lives near Chillicothe, said on Tuesday that he has had no contact with his sister since before she left for Tennessee in the 1960s.

"I'm still numb about this ... It shocked me that she got caught," he said. "I think she got comfortable."

He said she would have been caught if she had tried to contact him, because authorities continually followed and questioned him about his sister. He said he wants to visit her.

Tommy Freshwater said authorities should consider a pardon.

"I'm not going to say she's completely innocent, but I'm going to say she didn't pull the trigger," he said.

The fact that she lived a clean life for 32 years "demonstrated that she was not the killer she was portrayed," he said.

Before returning to Columbus, Freshwater lived in north central Ohio towns including Mansfield, Marion and Galion, prosecutor O'Brien said. She had a common-law husband in the 1970s and a husband who died.

"Tonya never led a reclusive life," Piatt said. "She went across country exploring as a trucker."

"She is the mother of three children and everywhere she has gone she has been known as a compassionate, loving, caring and considerate person," the attorney said.

Piatt said his client's sons from a previous marriage, Timothy and Phillip Hudkins, live in Columbus. Her daughter, Angie, lives out of state. He said Daryl McCartor and Timothy Hudkins were out of town for the week.

Jackiethia Morris, who lived a few doors down from the McCartors, said she talked with the couple but never learned their names.

"Our dogs played together. My husband helped her son fix her car," she said. "We just chit-chatted."

Morris said she was shocked when she heard the news.

"The reason why we live in this community is we thought nothing could happen over here," she said. "It's not the kind of community where you get to know everybody in depth."

According to trial testimony, Freshwater was 18 in 1966 when she put her infant son up for adoption and went to Memphis to visit her boyfriend, a prison inmate.

Freshwater began an affair with her boyfriend's attorney, Glenn Nash, and the couple went on a three-week crime spree that resulted in shooting deaths in three states.

Nash was found mentally incompetent to stand trial. Freshwater was tried in one of the deaths in Mississippi but not convicted. In 1969, she was convicted in the death of the liquor store clerk.

Freshwater was one of the fugitives placed on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's original Most Wanted list on May 5, 1993.

She was featured on the television show "America's Most Wanted" in 1994.

She was the only woman on the TBI's Top 10 wanted list. Only two Tennessee escaped convicts have been missing longer -- one since 1957 and the other since 1965.

TBI agent Tommy Lewis, who investigated the case for five years, said Freshwater's law-abiding behavior since the escape is more reflective of her true character. He considers her a "victim of circumstances" who was under the control of Nash.

"I think she was trying to survive. If she'd been involved in armed robberies before she arrived (in Tennessee), I'd believe differently," Lewis told The Commercial Appeal of Memphis.

In a 1980 interview with The Commercial Appeal, Nash said he believed after Freshwater escaped that she "married a truck driver and she's the best damn wife anybody ever had and is completely buried in obscurity and children."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)