Police: Inmate serving life sentence who conned his way out of Md. prison is caught in W.Va.

By Ben Nuckols, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

Police: Mistakenly released inmate caught in W.Va.

BALTIMORE — A man serving three life terms conned his way out of a Baltimore prison with help from his cellmate, an extraordinary escape that raised questions about Maryland’s procedures for releasing inmates.

Raymond T. Taylor, 26, of New York, successfully posed as a cellmate he never should have been paired with in the first place — a man who happened to resemble him closely, corrections officials said Friday. He escaped Thursday afternoon and was recaptured Friday morning in West Virginia.

Taylor was convicted in 2005 of what prosecutors called the attempted “execution-style” slayings of his ex-girlfriend and her two teenage daughters. All three victims survived gunshot wounds to the head.

Taylor and cellmate William Johnson swapped photo identification cards Thursday afternoon, and when Johnson’s name was called, Taylor answered, officials said. Four correctional officers checked the photo and inmate identification number — which Taylor recited when asked — and allowed him to walk out of the windowless, bunker-like Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center.

“There was a striking resemblance between the two,” Assistant Commissioner of Correction Felicia Hinton said Friday.

Mug shots released by the corrections department revealed some facial similarities but many differences between the two men. Taylor wears his hair in long braids, while Johnson’s is short. Corrections officials said Taylor hid his hair under a hat when he was released and noted that the men were the same height, with similar builds.

Taylor and Johnson did not know each other before Taylor was placed — improperly, according to corrections officials — in Johnson’s cell. Johnson, 22, was scheduled to be released Thursday, but he now faces an additional 10 years on a charge of conspiracy to aid Taylor’s escape. Officials did not explain why Johnson agreed to the ruse.

Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard told lawmakers in Annapolis that “a series of errors” led to the mistaken release. But he stressed that at this point there’s no evidence corrections officers knowingly helped Taylor escape.

Some lawmakers were incredulous.

“It’s just hard to believe that four people could make a mistake in a series like that,” said Sen. James DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel. “We’re very fortunate that Taylor did not harm someone else, because he is not an upstanding citizen by any stretch of the imagination.”

After Taylor got out, Johnson remained quiet for about an hour and a half before he started kicking the door to his cell and complaining that he had not been released, alerting prison staff to the ruse, officials said. Johnson was finishing a two-year sentence for second-degree assault and violating his probation on a previous burglary conviction.

Johnson also got to leave prison Thursday, but only briefly. Since it was his scheduled release date, correctional officers were forced to let him go because they had not gotten a new warrant on the escape charge before midnight, Commissioner of Correction J. Michael Stouffer said. He was taken back into custody early Friday.

“We watched him closely and picked him back up as soon as we got the warrant,” Stouffer said.

Stouffer said he had asked all Maryland prisons to review their release policies and notify him about what needed to be changed. Maynard said officials were considering using fingerprint scans to verify inmates’ identities.

MCAC is a former “Supermax” prison that’s now used to house inmates who are awaiting court appearances or moving from one prison to another, as well as federal detainees. Taylor was there because he was on his way to the Eastern Shore for a scheduled court appearance next week in a civil lawsuit involving a Maryland woman.

The lawsuit concerns a dispute over $685 and was filed in December by Taylor and another inmate at a maximum-security prison in western Maryland, according to online court records.

Acting on a tip, a police task force recaptured Taylor Friday morning at a friend’s home in Martinsburg, W.Va. He was hiding in a closet, and a woman in the house was charged by U.S. Marshals with harboring a fugitive, police said.

Taylor was convicted of lining up his former girlfriend and her two daughters, who were 14 and 16 at the time, on a bed and shooting them multiple times, including once each in the head, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokesman for the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office. The victims only survived because he used a small-caliber handgun, but they have long-term disabilities, she said.

“It was a chilling, execution-style attempted murder,” Burns said. “It is a miracle that they survived.”

Taylor abruptly pleaded guilty to three counts of attempted first-degree murder on the second day of his trial, Burns said.

Associated Press writer Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md., contributed to this report.

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