2 murder suspects escape from SW Arkansas jail

May 29, 2012 - 3:55 PM
Arkansas Jail Escape

These undated photos provided by the Miller County, Ark., Sheriff's Department show Cortez Hooper, left, 23, and Quincy Stewart, 35. Authorities are searching Tuesday, May 29, 2012, for the two murder suspects who escaped a southwest Arkansas jail on Monday by a using a hacksaw blade to saw through metal bars covering a window. (AP Photo/Miller County Sheriff’s Department)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Authorities were searching Tuesday for two murder suspects who escaped from a southwest Arkansas jail after they sawed through metal bars with a hacksaw blade, jumped out of a window and skirted a fence topped with razor wire.

Officials realized early Monday that Cortez Hooper and Quincy Stewart, who were both being held on murder and other charges, were missing from their jail cell in Texarkana — about an hour after a guard checked on them at 3:15 a.m., said Chief Deputy Duke Schofield with the Miller County sheriff's department.

"Sometime in that hour, they made their escape," Schofield said.

Hooper, 23, and Stewart, 35, apparently sawed through metal bars which covered a window measuring about a foot wide and 3.5 feet tall, Schofield said. They broke the glass pane with one of the bars, Schofield said, used a mattress cover to lower themselves about 5 feet down from the window and then jumped another 10 feet to the ground.

Then, the two scaled a 10-foot fence topped with razor wire before scooting under another fence and off the jail property, Schofield said.

"Once they made it under that second fence, they were on the run," Schofield said.

The men tried — unsuccessfully — to cushion their landing by squeezing a mattress through the window, but the mattress sailed across the way, Schofield said.

Surveillance cameras did not capture their escape, Schofield said, but inmates at the jail later said they heard some of the ruckus.

"We've gotten reports from some of the inmates that they did hear the banging noise prior to the escape, but they failed to alert guards or say anything," Schofield said.

Schofield said officers are checking in with relatives, friends and people who may know Hooper and Stewart in the hopes of finding the two.

He said he believes they're still in the Texarkana area, which is about 140 miles southwest of Little Rock.

"They have extensive families here," Schofield said. "They may have left town, but I just got a feeling that they're still here."

Authorities also brought in a dog shortly after the men escaped but the dog wasn't able to sniff out a trail because of the recent hot and dry weather.

"The scent dissipates fast whenever the humidity is very low and it was very low yesterday morning," Schofield said.

Authorities at the jail are also trying to figure out how Hooper and Stewart procured a hacksaw blade or blades.

"Somehow, one or both of these two gentlemen were able to smuggle or somebody gave them some hacksaw blades," Schofield said. Authorities found part of a blade in the cell, but Schofield said he didn't know how many they started out with.

Court records show Hooper was charged last year with first-degree murder and a weapons charge. Hooper's lawyer, Darren Anderson, said jury selection at one point was slated to begin Tuesday, but that the case had since been rescheduled for later this summer.

Anderson said he hadn't heard from Hooper, who had pleaded not guilty, since authorities said he escaped.

Across the state line in Texas, Texarkana police spokesman Sgt. Steve Shelley said the department had a hold on Stewart for a capital murder charge after Stewart allegedly killed another man last year. The formal charge hadn't been filed because he was being held in Arkansas on a drug charge.

Shannon Tuckett, listed in Arkansas court records as Stewart's attorney, said she has not heard from Stewart in the last day or two. She said he pleaded not guilty to the possession of cocaine charge and that she was not representing him in the Texas case.

___

Follow Jeannie Nuss at http://twitter.com/jeannienuss