You will have to remove the 4 screws at the bottom, and then pull the inside panel free for access to the mechanism. If the door is stuck closed, you can manipulate the inside panel loose from the door at the top enough to gain access to work the linkage by hand. It is not fun, but can be done without ruining anything. You may have to get some new 'christmas tree' plastic fasteners if the old ones are too distorted to work.
Thanks for the response, tomw...but my problem is that the lift gate is locked/stuck in the closed position; I can't get it open. Hopefully, someone has an answer to releasing the latch from the inside of car through that access hole at the bottom. It'd save me a hundred bucks just to have the dealer "look" at it.
Yours has an access hole? On the inside? Can you post a pic. Mine doesn't.
From reading other topics, you may have to peel away the plastic from the inside. It's held in place by spring clips... just pull the plastic off at the top so that you can reach in to get at the rod. When I removed the plastic, the hatch glass seemed to be in the way, so I don't know how problematic that might be. I was able to open the glass, before removing the plastic... nothing was broken or anything.
This is a known problem w the Escape, so I removed the plastic interior shroud & drilled a hole in the plastic at the actuator/rod linkage for future access for if ever mine breaks. I plugged the hole w a black plastic plug from Lowes.
2002 XLS. 1st pic: I think the actuator is in the locked position.
Sorry, couldn't get a picture, but the access hole is of no use...all that is available thru the hole is the boss that the latch hooks onto. The locked latch finally responded to the key fob and opened, I immediately installed the replacement actuator, which cost me $10; Ford wanted almost $400. They only sell the whole assembly.