Plot foiled to free TN's only female death row inmate - WKRN News 2

Plot foiled to free TN's only female death row inmate

Posted: Updated: March 21, 2012 5:16 PM CDT
Christa Pike Christa Pike
Justin Heflin Justin Heflin
Donald Kohut Donald Kohut

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Department of Correction have foiled a plot to break Tennessee's lone female death row inmate out of jail.

Christa Gail Pike, 36, remains behind bars at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.

Justin Heflin, 23, and Donald Kohut, 34, are charged with planning her escape.

"Anytime there's a threat to one of our prisons, there's a threat to the public," said Dorinda Carter, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Correction, "We take this very, very seriously."

Heflin, of Chattanooga, was previously a correctional officer at the Tennessee Prison for Women before his termination on March 5.

He was indicted by a Davidson County grand jury last month on one count of official misconduct, one count of conspiracy to commit escape and one count of facilitation to commit escape.

He was booked into the Davidson County jail Tuesday afternoon on a $75,000 bond.

Kohut, of New Jersey, is an acquaintance of Pike and frequently visited her in prison. He met Heflin during those visits, the TBI said.

Kohut was indicted on one count of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit escape.

New Jersey State Police arrested him at his home Monday morning.

Kohut is being held on a $250,000 bond while awaiting extradition to Tennessee.

The TBI and TDOC initiated their investigation in late January after receiving information about the planned escape.

"We do monitor phone calls, we do receive information from various sources and we investigate that information as soon as we receive a tip that there might be even the slightest risk to the prison," Carter told Nashville's News 2.

The investigation revealed Heflin was receiving money and gifts for his role in planning the escape which subsequently led to Kohut's involvement.

"Interrupting a plot like this before the escape is attempted is crucial to keeping Tennesseans safe," TBI spokesperson Mark Gwyn said of the arrests.  "The last thing law enforcement wants is a dangerous fugitive on the streets."

"We are thankful for the great work and cooperation of the TBI, the New Jersey State Police, and the departments' investigative unit to identify and apprehend these individuals," Commissioner Derrick Schofield added.

Pike was sentenced to death in March of 1996 for murdering 19-year-old Colleen Slemmer in Knoxville in 1995 when Slemmer showed an interest in her boyfriend, Tadaryl Shipp.

She lured Slemmer to a remote spot on the campus of the University of Tennessee and sliced her hundreds of times with box cutters and a meat cleaver before finally beating her to death with a rock.

Pike is also serving time for attempting to murder a fellow inmate in 2004.

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