Given Chance To Turn Life Around, He's Now A Fugitive He Got Probation For Cooperating And Had Begun To Make Changes. Four Months Later, He's A Wanted Man.

Posted: January 28, 1999

Kenneth Tucker outran his past in a West Chester courtroom one day in early October.

The 19-year-old had traded gang membership for solid citizenship. Selling drugs for a job making manhole covers. Street life for education, religion and possibly marriage.

A former member of a Coatesville street gang, the Young Guns, Tucker testified against his friends in 1997.

So on Oct. 8, Judge James P. MacElree 2d gave Tucker 10 years of probation on a sentence of 11 1/2 to 23 years for a Christmas Eve shooting that happened two years before. The Chester County district attorney waived a five-year mandatory prison term.

``I can't tell you in strong enough terms - you're being given an extraordinary opportunity here,'' MacElree told Tucker. ``If you stay on the straight and narrow path, everything will be fine.''

Less than four months later, Tucker is a fugitive from justice, with five criminal cases pending against him. One is for assaulting his ex-girlfriend; the rest are for robbery and running from police.

``It was his lifestyle to be going out and doing stuff like that,'' said Sergio Perez, 17, a friend of Tucker's from Coatesville. ``He grew up doing stuff like that. He was trying to change. He was trying, but he let the streets get the best of him.''

On Jan. 13, Tucker slipped out of leg shackles at Caln District Court after a preliminary hearing for robbery charges, authorities say. Still in handcuffs, he allegedly stole a truck and rammed several vehicles during a high-speed police chase before escaping into Coatesville.

Caln Criminal Investigator James Shaw said Tucker has been sighted in Coatesville. The search is being led by the Caln Police Department, which has received help from Coatesville police and the U.S. Marshal Service's Fugitive Task Force in Philadelphia.

If he is caught and convicted on all current charges, Tucker could face more than 100 years in prison, said Assistant District Attorney Joseph Carroll. In reality, he would probably receive a minimum sentence of five to 10 years, Carroll said.

Shaw said he has asked Tucker's mother, who lives in Coatesville and acknowledges she has spoken to her son, to persuade him to surrender peacefully. His mother, Patricia Brown, said her son is fearful of police and of facing retribution from the Young Guns in prison.

``They're already saying they're going to kill him if he's going upstate,'' Brown, 35, said.

It has been a sharp turnabout from a few months ago.

In June, Tucker and his former girlfriend, Quiana Dixon, had moved into a Downingtown apartment together.

``He was really doing good,'' Dixon, 20, said. ``If he was going out, he was going out to play basketball with his friends. We were engaged in August, and we had set the wedding date for Feb. 14, 1999.''

Since he was a boy, Tucker has been known as Fudd, a nickname he used as a member of the Young Guns. Those who know him say he is often quiet, sweet, funny, and bright. They say he also displays flashes of anger.

In the last year, he had been going to church and enrolled in a G.E.D. diploma program, Dixon said. From May to October, Tucker worked at Environ Products Inc., a manufacturing company in Lionville.

``He was excited,'' Dixon said, ``being able to pay the bills and being the man of the household.''

It was a sense of order that he did not experience as a child. Tucker's mother said that she and his father had drug problems, which began in the mid-1980s and ended about six years ago, she said, when she found religion.

``When my mother passed away, that's when everything just fell apart,'' she said.

As a juvenile in Coatesville, according to court records and his testimony, Tucker was in trouble for stealing cars, trespassing, burglary and drug possession. He said he escaped from juvenile residences where he had been placed and went home. Tucker finished the 11th grade.

In May 1996, Tucker met Delbert ``Mister'' Franklin, who he later said organized the Young Guns.

``He wanted to take over the streets,'' Tucker said on the witness stand. Starting in January 1996, residents, prosecutors and police say, the Young Guns terrorized Coatesville through drug dealing, brazen robberies and shootings.

That December, Tucker was arrested for shooting Theodore Bookman after a fight in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall on Seventh Avenue in Coatesville. Bookman testified that Tucker lost the fight, then pointed a gun at him, and walked away with a friend. A few minutes later Bookman was shot in the arm. Tucker eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.

In June 1997, while Tucker was in jail, the rest of the Young Guns were arrested. When he was first approached about testifying against the other members, Tucker refused.

But he did not like jail. That March, he had written to MacElree, pleading to have his bail reduced.

``I'm being charged as an adult and hoping that I get an opportunity to show that I can conduct myself as an adult,'' Tucker wrote. ``I assure you that I will not let you or my family down.''

In time, said his lawyer, Keith Barkley, Tucker began to trust prosecutors when they said that it was an opportunity to turn his life around. They did not drop the shooting charges. But they offered to make his cooperation known to the judge and to waive the mandatory term. And they did not charge him with anything else in the Young Guns case.

In court on Dec. 8, 1997, Tucker pointed out the members of the Young Guns on a chart, along with their nicknames, and described their activities. Many of them subsequently pleaded guilty. Franklin was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years.

``I think it takes someone who has a lot of integrity to risk not only himself but his family being threatened,'' Barkley said.

As he tried to change, people in the area and at his job ridiculed Tucker for cooperating, said Dixon, his former girlfriend, and Perez, his friend.

Dixon said he wanted acceptance in his hometown.

``It bothered him a lot,'' she said. ``I could see it in his eyes.''

On Oct. 3, she told police, they had a fight in their apartment, in which he pushed her down and stepped on her head. She testified against Tucker in Downingtown District Court on Jan. 11.

Then on Nov. 30, according to police affidavits, Tucker attempted to snatch a woman's purse outside the Giant Food store in Caln. Another stolen purse was later found in his car, police said.

When a police officer saw him and Perez in Tucker's Honda that night near the Super Fresh down the road, Tucker allegedly led the officer on a high-speed chase. The chase ended when Tucker crashed into a restaurant window. After the hearing for those incidents, Tucker escaped, police said.

Barkley, Dixon and Perez said they hope he will surrender. Tucker's mother, who keeps a newspaper article about her son's escape underneath a cushion on her couch, said she is not sure.

``I talked to him, and I said, `Fudd, God will see you through,' '' Brown said. `` `Do what God would want you to do.' He does want to turn himself in. He doesn't want to keep running like this. . . . But on the other hand, if he turns himself in, he knows what could happen. He could get beat up in jail, or even killed.''

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