2 charged with trying to break death row inmate out of prison

2 charged with trying to break death row inmate out of prison

Posted:
Justin Heflin (source: TBI) Justin Heflin (source: TBI)
Donald Kohut (source: New Jersey State Police) Donald Kohut (source: New Jersey State Police)
Christa Gail Pike (source: Tennessee Department of Correction) Christa Gail Pike (source: Tennessee Department of Correction)

NASHVILLE (WATE) - Authorities have arrested a former corrections officer and another man accused of planning to break the lone female death row inmate out of the Tennessee Prison for Women.

Justin Heflin, 23, of Chattanooga, and Donald Kohut, 34, of Flemington, New Jersey, are charged with planning the escape of Christa Gail Pike, 36, from prison in January.

Pike was sentenced to death in March 1996 for the murder of Colleen Slemmer, 19, in Knoxville in 1995. She's also serving time for trying to murder another female inmate in 2004.

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

The Davidson County Grand Jury indicted Heflin in February on one count of bribery, one count of official misconduct, one count of conspiracy to commit escape and one count of facilitation to commit escape.

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

Kohut, is an acquaintance of Pike, had exchanged love letters with her and frequently visited her in prison where he also met Heflin. He was indicted on one count of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit escape.

The New Jersey State Police arrested Kohut on the charges Monday morning at his residence.

Kohut is being held at the Hunterdon County Department of Corrections on a $250,000 bond and is awaiting extradition.

The investigation began after the Department of Correction received information about the escape plan.

TDOC asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to help on January 27. Then the TBI got a request from the 20th Judicial District Attorney General's Office to open an investigation.

Agents and officials say they found evidence of the plan and contraband in the prison. They also received information about Heflin being involved.

TBI says the investigation revealed Heflin was receiving cash and gifts including a canoe and a Gibson guitar for helping plan the escape.  The plan was to copy keys to prison doors by making paper tracings. Other guards found the tracings in January, before Pike could attempt her escape.

"Interrupting a plot like this before the escape is attempted is crucial to keeping Tennesseans safe," said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. "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," said TDOC Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield. "Our mission of operating safe and secure prisons is our main focus and we will continue to examine and follow every lead to accomplish our mission."

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