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Haunted by raw deal, he tries to stir outrage

Published July 12, 2006

When the national media circus covering the John Couey trial comes to town in the next few days, one man will be standing on the sidelines trying to catch the attention of a reporter, preferably one of the TV big shots.

It is part of Ron Lundberg's tireless mission to win justice and freedom for a young man he believes has been railroaded by the legal system. A young man serving hard time for a minor crime. A man Lundberg has never even met.

The case that holds such a grip on Lundberg's soul should be a familiar one to Citrus County: Adam Bollenback, then 17 years old, sent to prison in 2002 for 10 years for stealing a six-pack of beer from a neighbor's garage refrigerator.

Like many people in the county, Lundberg was outraged by the sentence that Circuit Judge Ric Howard passed on Bollenback. He was especially incensed by the judge telling the teen that "This sentence is going to break your spirit right now" - unnecessarily harsh words for a defendant dealing with mental problems.

Unlike just about everyone except for Bollenback's family, however, Lundberg did not just shrug his shoulders and move on when the judge refused to reconsider the sentence. He has continued to champion the cause of getting Bollenback released from prison.

Lundberg helped gather signatures on petitions and went before a committee of the state clemency review board in January to plead for Bollenback. His request for clemency was denied.

With no obvious options left, Lundberg is hoping that the national media in town for the Couey murder trial might take an interest in Bollenback's case. Some high-profile media pressure might, in turn, get Gov. Jeb Bush to pardon Bollenback as he leaves office.

Considering that Bush is on record of supporting the clemency board's decision in the case, Lundberg's effort is the longest of shots. But it is one he is willing to take.

"Adam is the poster child for what can happen to a person with mental illness," said Lundberg, a 71-year-old retiree from Beverly Hills.

The injustice of the sentence, he said, drew him to the Bollenback case. "This case is an embarrassment to the justice system."

He has since become a board member for the Citrus chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness. While NAMI supports him and Bollenback, Lundberg said, he is working independently to bring the case before the national press.

But the retired computer company executive is new to the arena of spin and media hype. He has written to media celebrities such as Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, who is expected to devote large portions of her cable TV legal issues show to the Couey case, but has received no response.

His letters point out the seeming lack of fairness between the sentence that Bollenback is serving and those of national figures such as former member of Congress Duke Cunningham, convicted in a massive bribery scandal.

Lundberg's message is simple: Bollenback's punishment does not fit the crime. But his timing and tone might be off, he fears.

"Right now, their focus is on Couey," he said. He is trying to show that Howard went overboard in punishing Bollenback, "but that doesn't ring well now because the public wants him to be harsh with Couey."

Yet this may be the best, and only, chance that he will have to get widespread exposure for the case. "I'm running out of options," he said. "I'm only one guy, a squeaky wheel."

So, he intends to head to the courthouse and try to get a TV reporter to read the information packet he has prepared about the Bollenback case. Perhaps during the downtime during the trial, some TV talking head might want to delve into this and other notorious rulings by the judge in the Couey case.

All Lundberg can do is put the info out there and hope for the best.

"There are three kinds of people in the world," he said. "Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who ask, "What happened?' "

[Last modified July 11, 2006, 23:22:15]

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