Four inmates charged with murder in prison workers' deaths

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Pasquotank Sheriff Randy Cartwright (right) addresses the media during a press conference to announce the filing of first-degree murder charges against four inmates in the deaths of two prison workers, at the Pasquotank Public Safety Building in Elizabeth City, Friday. At left are Elizabeth City Deputy Police Chief John Young and District Attorney Andrew Womble.

Mikel Brady.jpg
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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Friday, October 20, 2017

Four inmates, including one serving a long sentence for second-degree murder, are facing first-degree charges in the deaths of two prison employees during the failed prison break at Pasquotank Correctional Institution last week.

During a press conference on Friday, local law enforcement officials identified the four inmates as 28-year-old Mikel Brady, 29-year-old Wisezah Buckman, 33-year-old Seth Frazier and 30-year-old Jonathan Monk.

All four are charged with two counts each of first-degree murder in the deaths Oct. 12 of N.C. Corrections Enterprise Manager Veronica Darden and correctional officer Justin Smith, both of whom were killed during what prison officials said was a failed escape attempt by the inmates.

Noting that two other prison employees — correctional officer Wendy Shannon and maintenance worker Geoffrey Howe — remain in critical condition at a Virginia hospital as a result of the failed escape attempt, Pasquotank Sheriff Randy Cartwright said the four inmates could face additional charges.

Cartwright said all four inmates will be served with the new charges once they are transported back to Pasquotank. Buckman and Monk are currently being held at Polk Correctional Institute in Butner, while Brady and Frazier are being held at Central Prison in Raleigh.

The new charges will be in addition to those the four have already been convicted of and were serving prison sentences for.

According to N.C. Public Safety Records, Buckman is serving a 32-year sentence for his conviction on charges of second-degree murder in Mecklenburg County in May 2015. According to The Associated Press, Buckman was accused of fatally shooting one co-worker and wounding another in 2014. 

Both Brady and Monk are serving sentences for attempted first-degree murder. 

Brady was sentenced to 24 years and six months in prison for shooting a state trooper who pulled him over in Durham in 2013. According to The AP, Brady was a fugitive from Vermont,  wanted for a probation violation, when he shot Trooper Michael Potts in the face, hands and right shoulder. Brady was convicted of first-degree attempted murder in January 2014.

Monk is currently serving 16 years and six months following his conviction on first-degree attempted murder charges in Cumberland County in July 2015. According to The AP, Monk was a Fort Bragg soldier who broke into the home of a fellow soldier, and then slashed and stabbed the soldier’s wife with a knife. 

Frazier is currently serving 10 years and 11 months following his conviction in August 2012 for first-degree burglary in Onslow County. According to The AP, Frazier, a convicted sex offender at the time, broke into a home near the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base in 2011 and surprised a teenage girl in her bed.

Asked at Friday’s press conference whether other inmates will be charged in the employees’ deaths, Cartwright said he couldn’t answer that until after the grand jury is presented evidence about what happened at the prison. A grand jury is scheduled to meet on Oct. 30, he said.

District Attorney Andrew Womble said he and his team of prosecutors, after meeting with law enforcement, decided that filing criminal charges against the four inmates now "was the right message to send to the community" in the wake of the deadly failed prison break.

"I was convinced that the right way was to go ahead and seek the charges rather than wait the additional week and go to the grand jury," he 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 escaped by climbing over the prison’s fences. Cartwright told The Associated Press last week that only one of the four inmates actually made it to the prison fences during the breakout attempt. However, the inmate surrendered to prison guards after becoming snagged on the fence.    

Both Cartwright and Womble declined to answer a number of questions about the attempted prison break at Friday’s press conference, citing the ongoing criminal probe and the need to empanel an impartial jury for the inmates’ trials.

"We can't try this thing in the media," Cartwright said.

Womble told reporters he's hoping to try the inmates for murder in Pasquotank. For that reason, he doesn’t want to prejudice potential jurors by releasing too much information about what happened ahead of the trials.

"I can assure you that my office intends to prosecute this to the fullest extent," he said.

Cartwright declined to comment about the relationship between the four inmates prior to the Oct. 12 failed escape attempt. Although reports have suggested employees at the prison were beaten with hammers and stabbed with scissors, Cartrwright also declined to specify what types of weapons were used in the attack.

Cartwright said there's no evidence anyone suffered burns as a result of the fire. He said more information will come out that the fire was set as a diversionary tactic.

Asked if investigators have determined why the four inmates decided to attempt an escape now, and how they thought they were going to be able to scale the prison’s tall, barbed fences, Cartwright said those things are difficult to find out. 

"That would be hard to answer why any inmate ever tries to escape, because there have been other attempts to escape from other prisons," he said.

At the same time, he anticipates details of the inmates’ motives to come out at their trials.

Asked if investigators have been able to identify the route the inmates were planning to take had they been able to escape, Cartwright said that, too, will be a subject of testimony at the inmates’ trials.