Three inmates in the Union County Jail - including one who learned this week the state will seek the death penalty for him - are accused of plotting an escape attempt.
Charged with attempted escape and possession of contraband are Pernell Clayton Thompson, 20, of 1354 Sulphur Springs Road, Jonesville; Melvin Beam, 43, of 1208 West Main St., Union; and Lancaster Reed, 51, of 1158 Ridge Crest, Lot 1, Spartanburg.
Thompson has been held in the jail since Jan. 5 for the murder of 16-year-old Marisha Jeter. 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett on Tuesday informed Thompson in a court hearing that the state intended to seek the death penalty for him if he is convicted.
Beam was charged on Dec. 7 with two counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct. He is accused of sexually assaulting two girls over a period of about eight years.
Reed was arrested on June 18, 2007 by the sheriff's office and is accused of assaulting Brent Addis in Jonesville and then shooting Addis' son, Matt, when Matt came to his father's defense. Reed's case is expected to be sent to Federal Court because he was a convicted felon with a firearm.
According to a report written by Lt. Robbie Hines, jail officers learned that the three planned to overthrow them, assault them, kidnap them and steal their vehicles to flee.
Thursday morning, officers Derrick O'Shields and Chad Harris went to the maximum security area of the jail to retrieve morning breakfast trays. While they were gathering the trays, Thompson asked Harris if he could take a shower. Harris opened the door so Thompson could go to the shower and noticed Beam acting suspiciously. Harris said Beam was almost hiding behind Thompson as he opened the cell door. As Thompson was walking out of the cell, Beam came running from behind him as if he were about to run past Harris. Harris shut the door and locked it.
O'Shields asked Harris if he was okay and Harris explained what had happened. Harris asked Thompson why he was shaking so badly. Thompson said he had forgotten his hygiene bag, which was still in the cell. Harris felt that Thompson wanted him to reopen the door. Instead, he asked Beam to pass a washcloth and towel through the cell door flap. As Beam passed these through, O'Shields told Thompson to get the towel and shake it out. Beam heard O'Shields say this and attempted to grab the towel back, but Thompson already had it. He shook the towel and an 8 1/2 inch “shank” or jail-fashioned knife fell to the ground.
Harris picked the shank up and O'Shields put handcuffs on Thompson. Thompson was escorted to the booking area and placed in a chair.
Cpl. Melinda Haney asked Thompson what had happened. At first he told her nothing. Then he told her he and Beam were going to leave that morning. Haney asked if there were any more shanks and he told her there might be.
Thompson was placed in a holding cell.
Beam was handcuffed and brought out of the cell. Officers searched the cell and found a cigarette lighter hidden above the light fixture.
Other inmates who might have seen or heard what had happened were questioned. Another inmate gave a written statement that he witnessed Reed, Beam and Thompson talking about overpowering the jailers and escaping. They had planned to force jailers into holding cells and steal their vehicles. From there, they were going to Jonesville and rob two banks and then meet up with a girl Thompson knew from Spartanburg.
The inmate giving the statement said the three took mail and flushed it down the toilet to get rid of any evidence in letters. The inmate said the men gave him stamps, saying they were going to escape and wouldn't need them anymore.
Hines examined the cell and found the men had taken metal from the light fixture to create the shank.