Law enforcement agents are finding it difficult to keep two capital murder suspects, both facing the death penalty, behind bars.
Two Fulton County murder suspects have escaped from jail twice in the past two months; the latest escape was from Independence County Detention Center May 19.
Accused capital murder suspects Bryan Shankle and Bobby Woodrum, both 19, and John Henry Figueroa, 26, overpowered a guard at the jail around 3:30 a.m. Figueroa faces charges of aggravated robbery and first-degree battery.
A prison guard, Daniel Avey, was performing a routine check on inmates when the three prisoners rushed out of jail cells and took him by surprise, said Independence County Capt. Bill Lindsey.
The three inmates apparently jammed the door locks on two jail cells the previous night, Lindsey said. When Avey was making his check the three overpowered and handcuffed him. The escapees took his keys and then forced a jail matron, Kera Cook, to open the doors of the jail. The three fled on foot, Lindsey continued.
According to Lindsey the suspects told the jail matron and jailer no one would be harmed as long as they didn't resist. Avey sustained injuries to his shoulder and wrists and Cook sustained bruises.
Search for the three escapees was hampered by heavy fog that settled in the tri-county area. Helicopters were grounded in the early morning hours because of the fog, Lindsey said. Tracker dogs from Calico Rock were called in to aid the search.
Independence County Sheriff Keith Bowers said, "The escapees are to be considered armed and dangerous."
Lindsey said the three confiscated a pocketknife from the jailer. When they escaped they were dressed in jail-issued orange pants with sandal-type shoes.
Woodrum and Shankle were both in basic lockdown, Lindsey said. Because of the seriousness of the charges the two face, they were allowed to join the other prisoners only during designated times, specifically to exercise.
16th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Don McSpadden said officers with the Arkansas State Police conducted a door-to-door search on the west side of town Monday. He said a lot of the elderly population live in that part of town so authorities are checking to make sure the suspects have not broken into one of their homes. McSpadden said a trooper spotted two men walking along railroad tracks but it turned out the pair were college students.
McSpadden said the area is on high alert and asks the public not to flash their lights to warn others for security purposes. He said the public is known to warn motorists about officers to avoid speeding tickets. The public could unknowingly warn the suspects of an officer in the area.
Fulton County Sheriff Lloyd Martz said his office has joined the search by patrolling areas Woodrum and Shankle frequented.
Martz said the suspects would stick out like a sore thumb dressed in prison garb. Martz predicted Woodrum and Shankle would break into a home in order to arm themselves with weapons and ammunition.
Lindsey said he thought the escapees would split up in an attempt to elude authorities; Woodrum and Shankle would probably stay together but Figueroa would probably split from the group, he said. Lindsey said officers received a tip from family members that Figueroa had been to their home in Concord, southwest of Batesville, the night of the escape. Later that evening a utility truck was reported stolen from a racetrack in Locust Grove. Lindsey theorized Figueroa stole the vehicle to get out of the area.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Dwayne Plumlee said even though Woodrum worked out a negotiated plea May 13 for two life sentences with no chance of parole, the plea was not entered. He said it was a tentative agreement and either side could back out. Plumlee said with the latest jailbreak the two will face additional charges. He said, "We hope they are apprehended without anybody getting hurt, including them."
When Shankle's defense attorney, Larry Kissee, was alerted to the jailbreak he was preparing to travel to Izard County to meet with representatives from the Department of Human Services in an attempt to get copies of juvenile records to aid in Shankle's defense, he said.
This incident was not the first escape by Woodrum and Shankle. The pair escaped from the Fulton County jail March 23 after they armed themselves with guns and ammunition from the evidence room. The two escaped by crawling through the ceiling and then fled in the jailer's Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Jailer Rhonda Long was on duty by herself during the midnight shift when she heard a loud noise downstairs where inmates are kept. Long checked on the prisoners and some of the inmates told her the noise had come from another inmate, Shankle, who had banged on the cell bars. Long did not take a head count because Shankle was in full view so nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
Long returned upstairs to perform some kitchen duties. She returned to the office to type reports when she noticed Woodrum hunched down ransacking through cabinets. Long told Woodrum where the keys could be located because she was afraid he would become violent if she didn't comply with his request. After obtaining the keys Woodrum released Shankle from the cell.
Shankle handcuffed Long to a chair in the sheriff's office while Woodrum broke down the door to the evidence room and stole a .223-caliber Mini 14, two shotguns, a .22-caliber rifle and a .22-caliber pistol.
The two fled in Long's vehicle and were spotted on Highway 63 near Willow Springs, Mo. A chase ensued on country roads at which time suspects ran through a cattle guard and into a pasture after losing control of the vehicle when one of the tires went flat.
The escapees abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot into the woods. They allegedly broke into an unoccupied house and stole a handgun and a shotgun from the home. While the two inmates were at the residence the owner's daughter-in-law arrived at the home and suspects took her car at gunpoint.
Woodrum and Shankle were apprehended at a roadblock north of Raymondsville.
Due to security problems at the jail the inmates were transported to Independence County Detention Center. A welder was hired to secure Fulton County jail, but Martz said after the escape, with the department's lack of personnel, he preferred the two be kept in Independence County.
The first attempt of a jail breakout was in July of last year. After hearing rumors that weapons had been smuggled into the jail, Fulton authorities searched and found two hacksaw blades under a mattress in one of the cells shared by several inmates including Woodrum and Shankle. Woodrum was transported to Craighead County jail and Shankle was transported to Stone County Detention Center for safety measures. Shankle was later transferred to Independence County jail after he allegedly started a fire at the Stone County jail.
Woodrum and Shankle were arrested for the murder of Russell "Joe" Fisk of Agnos. Fisk was found dead in his home June 24, 2002, with a belt wrapped around his neck.
An autopsy report indicated Fisk die from craniocerebral trauma, ligature strangulation, rib and spine fractures.
According to a forensic report, the victim's death had resulted from a combination of injuries including a broken neck, broken back and head trauma which included something being inserted into the victim's brain and twisted or cranked around in a circular motion.
Three others were arrested in connection with Fisk's death; Jesse Petty, 21, Timothy Est, 19, and Billy Jack Wilson, 26.
Charges were dismissed against Wilson after he agreed to testify on the state's behalf.