Two, including former correctional officer, charged in death row escape plot

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 at 10:51am
Staff reports

A former Tennessee Prison for Women correctional officer is behind bars in a Davidson County jail following his arrest Tuesday for allegedly planning to help the state’s lone female death row inmate escape.

Last month a Davidson County grand jury indicted 23-year-old Justin Heflin, of Chattanooga, 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 terminated from his job at the Tennessee Prison for Women on March 5. He was booked into a Davidson County jail Tuesday afternoon on a $75,000 bond.

Donald Kohut, 34, of Flemington, N.J., was also indicted on one count of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit escape in the alleged plot to assist in the escape of 36-year-old Christa Gail Pike.

Pike was sentenced to death in March of 1996 for murdering 19-year-old Colleen Slemmer in Knoxville in 1995. Pike is also serving time for attempting to murder a fellow female inmate in 2004.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Kohut is an acquaintance of Pike and frequently visited her in prison where he also met Heflin. The New Jersey State Police arrested Kohut on the Davidson County charges Monday morning at his residence. He is currently being held at the Hunterdon County Department of Corrections on a $250,000 bond and is awaiting extradition.

The TBI and the Tennessee Department of Correction worked together in the investigation that led to the charges against Heflin and Kohut.

The investigation began after TDOC officials received information of a planned escape.  On Jan. 27, the TDOC Office of Investigation and Compliance requested help from the TBI.

During the investigation, authorities allegedly recovered evidence of the planned escape and items of contraband within the prison and received information that Heflin was involved in the plan.

Law enforcement authorities believe Heflin received money and gifts for his role in planning the escape, which subsequently led to Kohut’s involvement.