Society

Man Stole Late Dad's Tools Willed to Him, Spends 34 Years in Jail (Video)

| by Michael Allen

Mark DeFriest's father died in 1979 and left him a set of tools.

However, DeFriest picked up the tools before they were officially willed over to him, so his stepmother called the police and had him arrested.

DeFriest was convicted and sentenced in 1980 to four years in jail for theft. He entered the notorious Florida State Prison at age 19 and was repeatedly gang-raped.

Amazingly, 34 years later, DeFriest is still serving time in a Florida jail. Of his 34 years in jail, 27 have been spent in solitary confinement, noted Democracy Now (video below).

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DeFriest is believed to be a savant as he has built contraband radios and master keys while in jail. He has tried to escape from jail 13 times and made it out seven times, earning him the nickname "Houdini of Florida."

The extra years have been tacked on because of DeFriest's prison escapes and also for fashioning a zip gun he made in a prison woodshop class. DeFriest shot the zip gun into a wall to see if it would work and was charged with attempted murder. He also stole a car during one successful prison escape.

During DeFriest's first trial, five out of six psychiatrists said he was highly intelligent, but also mentally incompetent.

Dr. Robert Berland, the one psychiatrist who thought DeFriest was faking his mental illness, admits that his diagnosis was wrong in a new documentary (video below) entitled "The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest," produced by filmmaker Gabriel London.

Berland meets DeFriest for the first time in 34 years in the film and tells him, "My opinion then was inaccurate."

In the film, DeFriest's lawyer, John Middleton, adds: "They charged him with attempted murder. He was placed in solitary confinement, lived in total darkness in a small cell, was not allowed to communicate."

"Mr. DeFriest was deprived of all toiletries, was deprived of toilet paper, soap, tissue, toothpaste," added Middleton. "The water was turned off in his cell. He could not flush his toilet. He could not bathe or shower. He had to eat without utensils and in the darkness."

London has become an advocate for DeFriest and testified on his behalf at the Florida Commission on Offender Review on Wednesday.

"There is support for Mark DeFriest; there is support for the notion that this person could be brought back and made whole in our culture," London told the commission, noted the Tallahassee Democrat.

"Mr. DeFriest has some mental health issues and what's happened here is there's been a collision between the correctional system and the mental health system," Middleton told the commission on Wednesday. "We're punishing him for being mentally ill."

The commissioners watched London's film and are considering an early parole for DeFriest whose current parole date is 2085.

The Florida Commission on Offender Review will vote on Dec. 3.

Sources: Democracy Now, Tallahassee Democrat