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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 18:31 GMT
Zimmer frame bank robber jailed
Alcatraz
Tucker even tried to escape from a sentence on Alcatraz
An 80-year-old life-long bank robber with a history of jailbreaks has been sent to prison for 13 years, because a judge says he is still a threat to society.

Forest "Woody" Tucker was sentenced for a hold-up at a bank in Jupiter, Florida in April 1999, which netted $5,600.

His lawyer had unsuccessfully requested that he be put under house arrest, given his enfeebled condition.

Zimmer frame silhouette
No gain without frame: Tucker can't get far without his Zimmer these days
A doctor testified that as Tucker was now able to walk only with the help of a Zimmer frame, at a top speed of two miles, it would take him five minutes to reach the bank from his car, carrying his gun in a pouch on the Zimmer frame.

He has also suffered a heart attack while in prison awaiting trial.

But US District Judge Daniel T K Hurley said that Tucker was too dangerous and had to go to jail.

By his own reckoning, Tucker has broken out of prison 18 times since he was first convicted in the 1930s, with another dozen failed attempts to his credit.

The judge said that, with a record like that, the time for repentence was past.

"It is simply too late to come before the court and say that Mr Tucker shouldn't be held accountable," he said.

Confused

The court heard that Tucker returned to a life of crime in order to pay the credit card bills of a friend with terminal cancer.

The ordeal of his friend's death left Tucker in what he called a state of confusion, with the credit card bills to pay and his friend's three guns in his car boot.

"I evidently started robbing banks at that time," said Tucker.

When police came to arrest Tucker, he made off in his car.

After a 70km/h (45 mph) car chase, he crashed into a tree.

Police found guns, handcuffs, disguises, a police scanner and other equipment in the car.

Can opener

Tucker is one of about 25 octogenarians currently held in US jails.

But, if his past record is anything to go by, he may not be there long.

In his unpublished memoir The Can Opener, Tucker recalls his jailbreaks - the most famous of which was in 1979, when he paddled away from San Quentin in California in a home-made canoe.

Once on the run, he joined the Over-The-Hill Gang, a group of elderly robbers allegedly responsible for holding up banks from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Recaptured in 1983, after a shoot-out in West Palm Beach, Florida, he served another 10 years in prison.

While serving a term in the notorious Alcatraz in 1956, Tucker made a break for freedom when he was taken to Los Angeles for a kidney operation.

Handcuffed and on his way to the operating theatre, he fought his way free and was on the run for five hours before being recaptured.

But, according to his lawyer, Tucker's glory days are in the past.

"Whatever fight he had in him is gone," said attorney Charles White.

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