WASHINGTON (WUSA9)--Earlier this week, in a joint investigation with USA Today, we showed you how tens of thousands of felons were able to escape justice in this country simply by crossing state lines to freedom.
That report generated several calls and emails, but one of them really intrigued WUSA9--a call from a man by the name of Robert Eichelberger. He's not a fugitive, but an ex-con with a lengthy criminal history that began at the age of 12. He told us that if the justice system had only locked him up, he wouldn't have been free to commit so many violent crimes.
WUSA9 asked, "Are you a convicted felon?"
"Yes," said Eichelberger. "Five or six times over."
WUSA9: "How can that even happen?"
"You tell me," said Eichelberger.
Eichelberger's rap sheet reads like a sordid crime novel. Assault and battery, domestic violence, reckless endangerment, theft and many other crimes.
"You name it. Trust me, this con's done it," he said.
In a drunken rage, he even tossed a Molotov cocktail into a shelter for abused women, where his former girlfriend had been seeking refuge.
"My criminal history is this long," said Eichelberger extending his arms. "If they'd have helped me, it would probably be this long," he said putting his hands close together, revealing a small gap.
Helped by putting him behind bars or into treatment. In the arson case, even with multiple serious charges, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison, with all but one year suspended.
"An 18-year sentence? I should have done at least between 5 ½ and 6 years," he said.
But instead, he walked free. Given credit for the year already served awaiting trial.
We asked, "Should you have been a free man?"
"No," he replied.
We asked, "Were you a danger to society?"
"At that time, yes," he said.
We followed up, "Are you today?"
"No, m'am," he said.
Despite his lengthy criminal history and an ongoing struggle with mental illness, he told us it was easy to buy half a dozen handguns in the late 1990s.
As a convicted felon, he told us he purchased multiple handguns.
"They didn't do no paperwork," he said. "Not even at a gun show," he added.
He says he was later forced to surrender those guns to the US Marshals.
"I have a lot of heaviness in my heart for what I've done," said Eichelberger, who now says he is filled with remorse.
"I live with it day in and day out. And I always wonder will these people ever forgive me? And it hurts."
Today, Eichelberger says he's drug and alcohol free and proud to have turned his life around. But he's still critical of the judicial system that again and again, gave a violent criminal like him a mere slap on the wrist, including fines and probation before judgment.