Security was heightened Tuesday at the murder trial of Kevin Wayne Newland after Spokane County sheriff’s deputies at the jail found sheets, a shirt and a sharpened stick that may have been stashed for an escape attempt.
“Our jail staff established information over the weekend that an escape attempt could be anticipated or being planned,” Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan said. “They separated the two inmates they believed were most likely to be involved and put them into a higher security part of the jail.”
John Mueller, judicial assistant to Superior Court Judge Sam Cozza, said he was informed Monday by security staff that Newland was one of the inmates involved in the potential escape attempt.
“They said they didn’t believe he was the ringleader but they thought he was involved,” Mueller said. “That’s why we had four (corrections deputies) instead of the normal two” at the first-degree murder trial.
Newland is charged with killing 19-year-old Jamie Drake.
Reagan said he could not confirm Newland’s involvement because no one has been charged in connection with the alleged escape plan. However, he acknowledged that more corrections deputies were assigned to provide security at the trial that resumed Tuesday.
Reagan said the two inmates were in a pod with 15 or 20 other inmates who have individual cells but share bathrooms, showers and a day room.
Following the tip, deputies searched those common areas and found “sheets and bedding that had been knotted into ropes,” Reagan said. “They also found an article of clothing that had been fashioned into a slipknot, and they found a hidden piece of wood that had been sharpened. All of those things were seized as contraband.”
“The reports have been forwarded to our detectives division,” he said.
Mueller said attorneys heard testimony for only half the day Tuesday because Assistant Public Defender Al Rossi had a medical problem with his eyes. The trial had been suspended on Monday for the same reason, Mueller said.
Newland, 21, is charged with aggravated first-degree murder in connection with the death of Drake, whose roommate was Newland’s ex-girlfriend.
If convicted at the trial that started last week, Newland would face up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Drake never showed up to her job at Subway on June 23, 2006. Her disappearance sparked a statewide search that ended on June 29 when Newland led Spokane County sheriff’s detectives to Drake’s body, which was wrapped in a tarp and placed under the floor of a cabin in Stevens County.
Newland later admitted to a detective that he hit Drake in the throat and tied plastic bags around her head before taking her body to the cabin, according to court records.
The investigation into the alleged escape attempt may not be completed for some time, Reagan said.
“I don’t believe we have ever had a successful escape from our jail, with the exception of one or two people using false identities to be released,” Reagan said. “We have had people run from the booking area and were chased down within a block or two … but we’ve never had an escape in the classic sense, like lowering themselves down from a window.”