HOUSTON – Jurors and victims' relatives fear they might be targets of a death row inmate who freed himself from handcuffs and walked out of a county jail in civilian clothes.
Convicted killer Charles Victor Thompson (search) remained at large Saturday, authorities said. Thompson, 35, fooled at least four jail employees when he walked out of the Harris County Jail on Thursday.
"This was 100 percent human error; that's the most frustrating thing about it," sheriff's spokesman Lt. John Martin said Friday. "There were multiple failures. There were several points where it could have been prevented."
"As a department, we're embarrassed about this," said Chief Deputy Danny Billingsley. "We're going to find out what happened and we're going to fix it."
Martin said investigators were trying to determine if he had inside help.
Several relatives of Thompson's victims — his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend — went into hiding or agreed to police protection, the Houston Chronicle reported.
"He can make people believe he is the most innocent man in the world," said Wynona Donaghy, mother of victim Dennise Hayslip (search). "If somebody is helping him, they don't realize how dangerous he is."
Cathy Lange, who served on a resentencing jury that recommended the death penalty for Thompson on Oct. 28, said she was terrified when she learned of Thompson's escape.
"I was shaking," Lange told the Chronicle. "I went all over the house making sure that all the windows were locked."
Lange said she later decided that Thompson would be more concerned with escaping than hunting down jurors, but she had spoken to other jurors who also were worried.
Thompson was condemned in 1999 for the shooting deaths a year earlier of Hayslip, 39, and Darren Keith Cain, 30. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered he be resentenced and on Oct. 28 a new jury again recommended the death penalty. Thompson was being held in the county jail pending his transfer back to prison.
On Thursday, Thompson claimed he had an appointment with his lawyer and was taken to a meeting room. However, the visitor was not Thompson's attorney. Martin said investigators were questioning the visitor but wouldn't give details.
After the visitor left, Thompson removed his handcuffs and his bright orange prison jumpsuit and got out of a prisoner's booth that should have been locked. He then left wearing a dark blue shirt, khaki pants and white tennis shoes, carrying a fake identification badge and claiming to work for the Texas Attorney General's office.