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Death penalty sought for prison slayings

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Mikel Brady

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The District Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty against all four inmates charged in the deaths of four correctional employees during the inmates’ failed escape attempt from Pasquotank Correctional Institution in October. 

Superior Court Judge J.C. Cole signed orders Wednesday allowing District Attorney Andrew Womble to seek the death penalty against Mikel Brady, 28, Wisezah Buckman, 30, Seth Frazier, 33, and Jonathan Monk, 30.

District Attorney Andrew Womble said in an email that all four inmates are charged with four counts of first-degree murder, among other felony offenses.

"Each murder charge represents a heinous and atrocious act committed on one of the four murder victims and is sufficient to warrant a death penalty trial," Womble said. "We intend to prosecute each defendant and each crime charged to the fullest extent of the law."

All four inmates are charged in the deaths of Correction Enterprise Manager Veronica Darden, correction officers Justin Smith and Wendy Shannon, and maintenance mechanic Geoffrey Howe. Darden and Smith died on Oct. 12, the day the four inmates attempted their escape from the prison; Shannon and Howe died later from injuries they suffered the day of the attempted escape.

Cole said he conducted a hearing in Pasquotank Superior Court on Wednesday that included Brady, Buckman, Frazier and Monk and their attorneys on whether the state planned to seek the death penalty against the defendants.

Pasquotank Sheriff Randy Cartwright said there was extra security present in the courtroom for Wednesday’s hearing.

"I mean, you're dealing with people that have nothing to lose," Cartwright said.

Law enforcement officials have said the four inmates intentionally set a fire inside Pasquotank Correctional Institution’s sewing plant to divert guards while they attempted to escape by climbing over the prison’s fences. Cartwright has said that only one of the four inmates actually made it to the prison fences during the breakout attempt. However, he surrendered to prison guards after becoming snagged on the fence.

A prison infraction report on the incident, first obtained by WBTW in Charlotte, indicates the escape attempt began with Brady and Frazier attacking Darden in the prison’s sewing plant. Buckman, Monk and Brady then attacked Smith in the plant’s storeroom. After exiting a freight elevator, all four inmates attacked Shannon and Howe, the report states. 

All four inmates were transferred to other North Carolina prisons following the incident. Brady and Frazier are currently being held at Central Prison in Raleigh. Buckman and Monk are being held at Polk Correctional Institute in Butner.

Prior to their attempted prison break, Brady was being incarcerated for attempted first-degree murder of a state trooper and Buckman was being incarcerated for second-degree murder. Monk was in prison for attempted first-degree murder and Frazier was in prison following his conviction on first-degree burglary charges.

No trial dates have been set for the four defendants on the Pasquotank murder charges. Although all four have attorneys, each will be assigned an additional attorney since they are now facing the death penalty. North Carolina law requires defendants facing capital murder charges to be represented by two attorneys.

If a jury finds a defendant guilty of first-degree murder in a death penalty case, a second phase of the case, known as the penalty phase, is held. During that phase, prosecutors and defense attorneys argue to jurors whether or not the death penalty should be imposed.

Given that death penalty cases typically take a long time to be resolved and he’s planning to retire at the end of next year, Cartwright said he likely won’t be sheriff when the four inmates’ trials begin. 

"To be honest with you, I'll be surprised if I'm still here when this one starts," he said.

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