Angola escape duo apprehended

Aaron Francois
Aaron Francois

Two men serving life sentences are back in custody at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola after they escaped Sunday morning by crawling through two fences, one with razor wire, and led authorities and bloodhounds on a half-mile romp through the swampland outside the prison fences.

The inmates were caught shortly after 11 a.m. without incident about a half-mile out from the Mississippi River, which officials said may have been their destination.

The inmates were convicted rapist Melvin Johnson, 49, from Orleans Parish, and convicted murderer Aaron Francois, 24, from Lafayette Parish, West Feliciana Parish Sheriff J. Austin Daniel said.

They are both serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Assistant Warden Cathy Fontenot said a corrections official spotted the duo crawling through the fence behind Camp C at 8:54 a.m. and alerted prison officials as the two scrambled over the Mississippi River levee, which is behind the camp.

They got through the prison grounds after they crawled through a hole in an inner fence, then threw a blue jean jacket over razor wire atop the second, outer fence before climbing over it.

The prison’s chase team used bloodhounds as they searched for the men, Fontenot said.

“The inmates surrendered upon the orders of staff and no deadly force was employed during the apprehension,” Fontenot said.

Officials said the men had 69 bags of peanuts — Fontenot described them as the small, single-serving bags sold at convenience stores — as well as a piece of metal fencing sharpened into an ice pick-like weapon, pepper to throw the search dogs off of their scent and flimsy plastic bags.

“That’s something that we haven’t seen in a while,” Fontenot said of the pepper, adding it does not work.

Fontenot said they also found a phone number on one of the inmates, but they are not sure if it was related to the escape.

Francois had cuts from climbing over the razor-wire fence, but the injuries are not considered life-threatening, Fontenot said.

While the duo has not talked to investigators, Daniel said he believes they were planning to swim across the Mississippi River, which is low right now.

West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office and Louisiana State Police helicopters and river boats from West Feliciana and the Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office joined the search, Daniel said.

Francois was found guilty in August 2012 of robbing and killing a Lafayette cab driver on Feb. 23, 2009.

Johnson was found guilty in September 1994 of aggravated rape and armed robbery of a man on April 17, 1992, in New Orleans and an attempted rape of another person in October 1992, Fontenot said. He previously served three years each for simple robbery and armed robbery in the 1980s, Fontenot said.

This was the first escape since 2010 from Angola, which is when convicted murderer Roy McLaughlin used a “key” made from a battery to unlock restraints on his hands after he was allowed into a special exercise yard at Angola’s Camp J, the prison’s disciplinary unit.

McLaughlin, of Baton Rouge, used the restraints to pull aside the razor wire on one fence and used his prison jumpsuit and the restraints to climb over a second perimeter fence.

McLaughlin ran toward the employee residential area at Angola, but was captured about 15 minutes later by the prison chase team before he reached it.

That was his third escape attempt.