N.J. Inmates Who Made Hollywood-Style Escape Appear in Court

Two inmates returned Friday to the scene of their daring Hollywood-style escape last month, which also led to the suicide of one of their guards.

Shackled and surrounded by officers, Jose Espinosa, an admitted killer, and Otis Blunt, a robbery suspect, made their first court appearances since their capture last week.

In a brief proceeding in a Union County Jail courtroom, a lawyer for Espinosa entered a not guilty plea to a charge of escape. Blunt said he has not been allowed to see his lawyer, and no plea was immediately entered for him.

Judge Joan Robinson Gross ordered each held on $4 million bail and set another court appearance for March 5.

When they disappeared the night of Dec. 14, Blunt, 32, was awaiting trial for robbery and weapons offenses, while Espinosa, 20, was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to manslaughter in a 2005 drive-by shooting.

The pair bashed through cinder-block walls and used photos of bikini-clad women to hide the holes, a trick used by the main character in the movie "The Shawshank Redemption." The men had piled sheets under their blankets to make it appear they were sleeping, and guards did not notice the disappearance until late afternoon Dec. 15.

Espinosa was found in a basement apartment a mile from the jail on Jan. 8. Blunt was captured the next day in Mexico. To avoid possible reprisals in the Union County jail, they have been held since then at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

Their breakout, the first since the jail opened in 1986, prompted a review of security procedures.

Although the inmates left a sarcastic note thanking a guard, Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow has said no guard knowingly aided in the escape. The guard named in the note, Rudolph Zurick, 40, committed suicide Jan. 2, the day he was to speak to investigators.

Outside the jail, Espinosa's lawyer, Marc D'Arienzo, said Espinosa was sorry about the guard's suicide.

"For whatever extent he contributed, he'd like to extend his heartfelt condolences," D'Arienzo said.

Espinosa and Blunt had planned to flee to Mexico together but Espinosa hurt his leg leaping to freedom, D'Arienzo said.

"I know this has a Hollywood ring to it, but this isn't Hollywood. This is reality," he said.

The breakout, the first since the jail opened in 1986, prompted a review of security procedures. Romankow has said Blunt swiped a 10-pound steel valve wheel from a standpipe in an area that should have been locked, and the inmates used it to bash through walls. They flushed the debris down the toilet.