Former Playboy Club bunny and Milwaukee police officer Laurie (Bambi) Bembenek, whose prison escape to Canada 20 years ago popularized the phrase "Run Bambi Run," has died.

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Laurie Bambi Bembenek, flanked by her lawyers, is shown in this 1992 photo following her return from Canada, where she was captured in 1990 after escaping from a Wisconsin prison. ((Mark Elias/Associated Press))

Bembenek, 52, who escaped while serving a life sentence for murder, spent more than two decades insisting on her innocence but never fully cleared her name.

That effort will continue, her longtime lawyer Mary Woehrer said Sunday. Woehrer said her client died Saturday of liver failure at a hospice care centre.

Bembenek worked briefly as a Playboy Club bunny in Lake Geneva, Wis., before becoming a police officer in Milwaukee, where she married detective Fred Schultz. Bembenek was convicted in 1982 of fatally shooting his ex-wife, Christine Schultz, after allegedly complaining about the alimony he had to pay.

She was sentenced to life in prison but maintained her innocence. In 1990, she escaped Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac and fled to Canada with then-fiancé Dominic Gugliatto, the brother of another inmate.

In Milwaukee, more than 200 supporters — many wearing "Run Bambi Run" T-shirts — rallied to show support for her flight from the law. Her story inspired a book and a 1993 TV movie starring Tatum O'Neal called Woman on Trial: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story.

Bembenek and Gugliatto were captured in Thunder Bay, Ont., about three months later after the case was publicized on the TV show America's Most Wanted.

Bembenek fought extradition for a time but willingly returned to Wisconsin in 1992. A judge said that "significant mistakes" had been made in the probe of Christine Schultz's death and Bembenek soon struck a deal with prosecutors in which her conviction was set aside.

She then pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and received 10 years of probation. Bembenek moved to Washington state in the late 1990s to live with her parents.

A Wisconsin appeals court in 2006 refused to let Bembenek appeal her murder conviction. More recently, she had been petitioning the office of outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle to pardon her, although last week a Doyle spokesman said Bembenek's most recent application was incomplete.

Woehrer said Sunday that Bembenek's family would continue to seek a pardon from Doyle.