Marshall Co. Sheriff: Inmate escape was an ‘unusual situation’, plan was discussed for days

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. -- After spending days planning their escape, three inmates are back in the Marshall County Jail after only hours of being on the run. Sheriff Scott Walls called the situation unusual and says a lot of factors went into it.

Sheriff Scott Walls says the three inmates planned for about a week leading up to the escape. "The plan was to obtain a car as soon as they got out of the building on Sunday night and be out of the state of Alabama within eight hours before daylight," Walls said.

Jail staff noticed Jose Martinez, Jose Rodriguez, and Abraham Lopez were gone during a roll call check Sunday night. Deputies say Martinez managed to catch a ride with Belinda May Houk and Hilario Carmona near downtown Guntersville. Investigators say the duo went to Guntersville to pick him up and drove him to their home in the Swearengin area of Marshall County.

On Monday that's where deputies found and arrested Martinez. A few hours later, Guntersville Police officers caught the other two inmates.

Guntersville Police Chief Jim Peterson says a call came in about a strong-arm robbery in the parking lot of a National Wireless store in Guntersville on U.S. Highway 431. "Two men were assaulting and apparently attempting to rob a customer who was in the parking lot," Chief Peterson said.

Officers searched and found the two men on Highway 205 near Pleasant Grove Road, which is just down the road from the store. The two men were not armed. “We later determined after they apprehended the two individuals they in fact were the two remaining escapees from the county jail," Peterson said.

After the escape, the Sheriff's Office put out information saying investigators believed the three inmates were out of the county. Walls says the plan investigators discovered led them to believe that was the case.

The inmates were housed in a minimum security dorm that was built years ago and designed for a work release center. "It's staffed currently with one person for 118 inmates," Walls said, "The county has recognized this problem and they have promised, and I expect they will work with us, to fix this problem in the future. They realize staffing is an issue as it is in all departments and jails across the state right now."

"The problem is the building was not designed for the purpose it is being used for. It was designed for a work-release center and within two years after it was built the previous administration it became a full-fledged jail."

Walls adds they've made many improvements over the years to the facility. He says they sat down with Marshall County Commissioners since the escape and discussed more changes. "Modifications are being made to the actual structure of the building that allowed this escape to take place," Walls said.

The jail is inspected frequently on multiple levels. Walls says there were never any concerns or issues.

He did not go into detail on how they escaped but said the last escape he can remember from the jail was prior to the early 80s. All three inmates were considered nonviolent drug offenders and never had any issues while incarcerated. One of the inmates has been in the jail since April, and the other two since last month.

Now, all three inmates are back in a different part of the Marshall County Jail, isolated. There's a chance one more inmate could be charged because deputies say he was originally part of the escape plan.