SULPHUR SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — Two inmates in an East Texas jail took advantage of a guard distracted by other duties in his office when they pulled open part of a chain-link fence in a recreation yard and slipped through, triggering a two-day manhunt, a local sheriff's office spokesman said Friday.
Brian Allen Tucker, who is charged with capital murder, and John Marlin King, who recently pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge, were found Thursday in a barn in Cooper, a town about 20 miles away from the Hopkins County Jail in Sulphur Springs.
While the two men now face felony escape charges, Hopkins County officials say they're studying how to improve security and prevent another escape.
Part of the problem was Tucker and King — who both have long criminal histories with several convictions each — had spent lots of time in the Hopkins County Jail, sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Brad Cummings said.
"When you have habitual offenders that come in and out of our jail constantly, they begin to understand the totality of what's going on," Cummings said. He added: "That is including how to manipulate the officers and the jail for something as simple as getting extra clothing, to something as extreme as the escape that happened Tuesday."
They were supervised in the yard by a guard in an office two doors away. While the guard could see the yard through windows, Cummings said his other duties included answering phones, locking and unlocking doors, and watching a maintenance crew working that day.
Sheriff's Deputy Alvin Jordan said high-risk inmates such as Tucker and King will now have to wear leg and wrist chains during recreation time. A guard will also be posted outside, Jordan said.
"We will be continuously playing defense at this point and trying to prevent any future likelihood of this occurring again," Cummings said.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the state agency that inspects county jails, said the Hopkins jail had last been inspected in September and no major problems were found. Executive Director Brandon Wood said Friday that TCJS was working to help local officials as needed.
Cummings said authorities received dozens of reports from people who thought they had seen one or both of the fugitives.
In the end, an attempt to pawn jewelry left in a vehicle the men allegedly stole in Sulphur Springs is what led authorities to their Cooper hideout, Delta County Sheriff Ricky Smith said. A Cooper pawn shop clerk's report led officers to the person with the jewelry, who revealed the whereabouts of Tucker and King, Smith said.
Officers also arrested Charles Ensey, the owner of the barn where the inmates were hiding, and he was being held in the Delta County Jail in Cooper on Thursday. Smith said Ensey was charged with two counts of hindering arrest. Ensey is believed to be an acquaintance of one of the two escaped inmates.
Ensey was scheduled to go before a magistrate Friday afternoon.
The escape sparked a manhunt in the woods and areas east and northeast of the jail.
Tucker was being held on $1 million bond in the 2011 death of Bobby Riley of Mahoney. Riley was found strangled in his home and some music instruments and firearms had been stolen. Jury selection in the murder trial was set to begin June 3.
Tucker previously was convicted of burglary and driving while intoxicated, and has been arrested several times for violating parole.
King was being held on several charges, including evading arrest, burglary and possession of a controlled substance. According to court documents, he pleaded guilty last month to the possession charge as a habitual offender and received a sentence of 40 years in prison.