D.A.: Escape plan of 2 alleged murderers thwarted

Four arrested in plot to spring pair of inmates from Chester County Prison

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

District Attorney Tom Hogan displays a piece of thick, security glass similar to the one the alleged conspirators hoped to shatter with a center punch or the ceramic innards of a spark plug.

All that separated two alleged murderers in Chester County Prison from freedom in Mexico was a security-glass partition – or so they thought, authorities said Tuesday.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan held a press conference to announce the results of a multi-agency investigation into an escape plan that was averted.

He said the pair’s girlfriends planned to shatter the protective glass separating maximum-security inmates and their visitors in a visitation room and hand guns to the inmates, who would flee to two getaway cars containing a change of clothing. Their destination: somewhere south of the Mexican border, Hogan said.

“The message of this case is that dangerous criminals will take desperate measures to avoid justice,” Hogan said.

He said the two defendants – Shamek H. Hynson, 32, formerly of Lancaster County, and Saleem D. Williams, 21, of Sharon Hill – have added escape and conspiracy charges to an already lengthy list of alleged offenses.

Hynson is serving a life sentence for heading 50 Million Soldiers, a Lancaster County gang that operated a violent, multimillion-dollar cocaine and heroin ring. He is awaiting trial on capital murder charges in Chester County for allegedly conspiring with his half brother, Prince Isaac, in the revenge killing of Omar Reid on Oct. 18, 2004, at a Coatesville apartment complex, according to court documents.

Saleem Williams (clockwise from top left), Shamek H. Hynson, Jameela A. Rozier, and Sara-Anne H. Lombardo have been charged in connection with the prison-break plot.

Williams is awaiting trial for the Sept. 14, 2011, fatal shooting of Selvin Mamerto Lopez-Mauricio, 22, a fast-food worker from Phoenixville. Police said Williams, the alleged triggerman, joined two accomplices to rob Lopez-Mauricio, a Guatemalan native who was killed resisting the trio’s efforts to steal his backpack.

Hogan said the two inmates’ respective girlfriends – Jameela A. Rozier, 19, of Upper Darby, and Sara-Anne H. Lombardo, 19, of Sharon Hill – were arrested Monday on the escape and conspiracy charges. Lombardo also faces drug offenses for allegedly attempting to smuggle Xanax and nude photos to Williams on Sept. 28.

Hogan said Lombardo hid the materials in an envelope with court documents that contained an attorney’s return address. Rules at the prison require that legal correspondence be checked by a counselor in the inmate’s’ presence to avoid contraband, Hogan said.

According to the criminal complaint, the defendants expected the counselor to give the envelope a cursory check when he saw court documents; instead, he “felt small bumps in the stack of papers” and found the drugs and photos, actions that put the pair under scrutiny and led to the unraveling of the escape plot.

Hogan said once prison officials alerted his office, investigators moved quickly. Letters suggested the alleged conspirators wanted to flee before the end of November, but a Nov. 16 response from Rozier to Hynson said “that’s not going to happen. I mean I understand it all, but I’m not ready yet.”

After studying phone calls and letters, investigators determined that some of the communication contained code words, Hogan said. Conversations also mentioned the purchases of a spark plug and a center punch, both of which can be used to break glass.

Chester County Prison Warden D. Edward McFadden discusses the averted escape plan at today’s press conference.

In separate interviews after their arrests, Lombardo and Rozier admitted that references to getting a “cell phone” for $280 meant a gun, the complaint said.

Asked whether the women would have succeeded in getting a weapon past security, both Hogan and Warden D. Edward McFadden called it unlikely but not impossible. “You never say never,” said Hogan, pointing out that the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia is named after a warden and deputy warden who were murdered at Holmesburg Prison in 1973.

In a Nov. 11 phone conversation, Williams asked Lombardo whether she had tested the center punch, the complaint said. When she said it didn’t work on her bathroom window, he instructed her to find out if “they make one stronger” than the $5 model she bought, the complaint said.

Hogan said Williams promised to switch to “Plan B” if the first scheme didn’t work, and “that’s when things will really go crazy.” Hogan said investigators have not yet determined what Plan B entailed; however, the inmates’ criminal records highlight violent tendencies.

“This would have been a bloodbath; these four individuals could have easily been injured or killed,” Hogan said, adding that prison officials also would have been at risk.

McFadden said concern for everyone’s safety fueled the efforts to thwart the plot, and he thanked the District Attorney’s Office for its “quick and efficient” response.

Hogan said Hynson and Williams met in maximum-security at the Chester County Prison, which is located on Wawaset Road in Pocopson Township. He said he didn’t think the women knew each other until they became part of the alleged conspiracy.

Chief County Detective James Vito said numerous agencies facilitated the arrests, including the prison, the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, federal officials and police departments in Upper Darby and Sharon Hill. “This was a collaboration with a very positive outcome,” Vito said.

The complaint mentions James J.E. Potts Jr., 28, another murder defendant housed with Hynson and Williams in maximum security, as a possible “third party.” Potts has not been charged in the case. Hogan said the investigation is continuing and more arrests are possible.

Potts is accused of spraying bullets in a downtown, residential West Chester neighborhood, a shooting that killed Towayne Uqdah, 23, of Philadelphia, on Jan. 27. Prosecutors said Potts, who listed residences in West Chester, Downingtown, and Philadelphia, has prior convictions for drug-dealing, resisting arrest, assault and escape.

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Tags: chester county, Chester County Prison, Distric Attorney Thomas Hogan, escape attempt, inmates, murder, Pocopson
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