DOWNTOWN - If it were not for the handcuffs that kept his hands and arms locked in place and the prison-issued white T-shirt, blue work pants and slippers, the long conversation David Ingram had with Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel on Thursday could have taken place in any bar across the country - just without beer and peanuts.
A group of lawyers, clerks, a probation officer and other court watchers teetered on the edge of their seats so they did not to miss a word as the judge and inmate, a man on the run for more than two decades, exchanged laughs during their 20-plus- minute friendly conversation about what in the world the defendant did to escape the law for 22 years.
David Igram did plenty without much.
Ingram, who is originally from Texas, said a buddy of his asked him in 1987 if he wanted to bring Ecstasy - a relatively new designer drug at the time to the Midwest - up to Cincinnati. Ingram agreed and landed in jail when he sold the drugs. As it turned out, the buddy was actually an informer.
At the time, Nadel sentenced the young Texan to 5 to 25 years in prison, the minimum sentence back then for the three counts of drug trafficking.
Ingram, however, remained free on bond pending an appeal, something Nadel said he rarely allows but admitted he made an exception because of various challenges to the law regarding the designer drug.
That appeal never happened and by the following year when it was time for Ingram report to prison, he was long gone.
For 22 years, Ingram was on the lam.
Nadel was intrigued. He begged to know more from the man who essentially snubbed the court's now senior-most judge and remained free all those years.
"How in the world?" Nadel asked in a manor that seemed more to charm then demand.
Ingram told his story and punctuated just about every sentence with the word, "Sir."
And a few laughs.
Ingram said returned to Texas which was experiencing enormous growth and in need many strong men willing to pound a hammer, pour concrete or do other hard work.
Like so many in Texas and other border states at the time, Ingram said he stayed off the radar because he was paid under the table: No name or Social Security number. No taxes.
Essentially as far as his work history was concerned, authority could not track the man who had a nationwide warrant out for his arrest. No work history. No papers. No luck.
But what about the rest of life? Nadel asked.
"No credit card. No bank account," Ingram said.
"What about a telephone?" Nadel probed.
"I didn't need one," Ingram replied.
Nadel peered down in a manner to that asked how can anyone live without a phone.
Ingram reminded him that the more recent advent of pre-paid telephones could keep one off the radar.
Nadel asked about utilities and rent, medical insurance.
Ingram said he covered those bases too. He paid cash for rent and either stayed in places that included utilities or at friends' houses. As for insurance, he hasn't really needed to use it though it would have been nice when he had a problem with a tooth that he paid cash to get treated.
Ingram never got married, so there was no need for a marriage license. He never got a speeding ticket. He never got a rap sheet, he told the judge.
But a driver's license that finally did him in.
When his mother fell ill on Cape Cod and he was left an old car by a friend who had passed away, Ingram told the judge that he thought it was best if he go and take care of his mother in New England. So, in March, he went to a driver's license bureau and applied to take the test so he could get his license.
After submitting the paperwork to the Texas licensing workers, he was asked if he had been to Ohio.
"A long time ago," he told them.
And that was that.
Ingram said didn't fight extradition to Ohio.
"I'm intrigued by the fact that you could stay out that long," Nadel said.
"What about computer access," Nadel asked.
"I know it sounds odd but..." Ingram said as he started to laugh.
Ingram admitted that being on the run that long gets old.
"I wouldn't wish that on anyone," Ingram said. "...I've essentially been on probation for 22 years," Ingram said.
Nadel asked if there would be a book in his future.
If there is a book, the next and perhaps final chapter will be about his sentencing.
Will Nadel send the man back to prison to carry out the original 5- to-25-year sentence?
Or will he grant Ingram's motion that he wrote himself to place him on an intense probation.
Nadel told Ingram he wanted to check out his story to make sure he has in fact stayed out of trouble and to find out what he was up to the whole time.
Nadel told Ingram he was to come back on August 12 at 9 a.m.
"That's it sir," Ingram said of his life-story. "I know you will find that I haven't been in any trouble."
"Are you sure you aren't thinking of writing a book?" Nadel asked again.
"I don't know if anyone would buy it," he said.
By Eileen Kelley July 29, 2010