At her Melbourne home, there won't be 19 different kinds of cookies. The tree won't be trimmed this year. And the peanut butter and chocolate fudge will have to wait.
Dashing her family's hopes of freedom before Christmas, an investigator with the Florida Parole Commission set a tentative release date of March 17 for longtime fugitive Paula Carroll.
The 56-year-old grandmother recently was sentenced to another year in prison for escaping from her Ocala cell in 1975 and eluding authorities for more than 34 years. That further delayed her parole release on the original charge: concealing stolen property.
"I was hoping that one of the spirits of Christmas would come visit me," said her husband, 65-year-old Ray Brown, who knew the fugitive as Sharon Brown. "I feel like Scrooge. It's not going to be a holiday without her."
The St. Patrick's Day release date was devised to allow time for the commission to again hear her case.
Commission members already are aware of Carroll's years of dedication to her community as a Boy Scout leader and school volunteer. Her defense attorney, however, said they must go through the typical approval process, which entails two hearings in Tallahassee, before she's freed.
"It's the same bureaucratic nonsense where they have the meetings and the voting," said John Eagen, her Tallahassee lawyer. "That's the reason the date was set 90 days from now."
But during those hearings, which likely will last no more than a few minutes, the commission will have the option to adjust the date. That leaves open the possibility that Carroll could be freed earlier.
"I really started getting a good feeling when the parole commission said they knew what a good person she really is and that she deserves to be out helping people," Brown said. "Now, I just don't know what to do."
In a jailhouse interview with FLORIDA TODAY last month, Carroll said she would look at the bright side of delayed freedom: There would be much less holiday cooking to do and no need to catch up on the shopping she typically does throughout the year leading up to Christmas.
"She's OK with it," Eagen said. "She's taking it in stride because she knows it's going to end."
Brown recalled past years when his family would watch the Melbourne Christmas parade, and his wife would make cookies and hot chocolate for the young attendees. During today's parade, however, Brown will visit his wife at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala.
"My Christmas will start when I see her walk through the door," he said, "and I see the sparkle in her eye, and I see her smile."