Christa Gail Pike
It was a murder case that gripped East Tennessee for years: the 1995 torture and slaying of Knoxville Job Corps student Colleen Slemmer.
After spending nearly two decades on Tennessee's death row, Slemmer's killer, Christa Gail Pike, was planning to break out of the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, according to state officials.
Slemmer's mother, May Martinez, said she was stunned to learn of the attempted escape.
"I'm just wondering how Tennessee can just go ahead and [let that happen] in a maximum controlled prison, that someone can acutally
try to escape, especially someone on death row," Martinez said. "That's telling me
somebody's not doing their job."
Authorities said Pike had some help on the inside and out.
A friend and a now-former corrections officer are facing a number of charges, and prison officials say pike will be punished as well.
"She's a very dangerous individual. Having someone like that escape is the last thing law enforcement wants to see," said TBI spokesperson Kristin Helm.
Pike and Slemmer were both Knoxville Job Corp students in 1995. Spurred on by an alleged love triangle, Pike and her then-boyfriend lured Slemmer to the UT ag campus.
They crushed her skull with asphalt, beat her and carved a pentagram on her chest. Pike took a piece of Slemmer's skull as a souvenir.
A jury found Pike guilty, and for 17 years, she's been the only woman sitting on Tennessee's death row.
"Killing her isn't going to bring my daughter back," Martinez said. "It's too easy for her to just be put to sleep. I prefer her to be with the general population, but the law says no."
The idea that Pike even thought of breaking out of prison left Martinez stunned and disturbed.
In late January, officials at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville got wind of Pike's plan to escape.
In on that plan, they say, were a family friend from New Jersey, Donald Kohut, who visited her frequently.
Officials said he met corrections officer Justin Heflin. That's when they said Kohut started giving Heflin cash and gifts in exchange for his help.
"There was some contraband related to that plan found in the prison. We were able to track that back to a correctional officer who had been working inside the prison," Helm said.
With the alleged plan now thwarted, Christa Gail Pike will continue to spend her days on death row, but for a mother still mourning, that offers little comfort.
"That's saying a victim can never be relaxed or not be on their toes in case something like this happens. [Pike] tried it after 17 years. Who knows when she is going to try it again?" Martinez wondered.
The few privileges Pike had on death row are gone. She can not have visitors or receive packages, officials said.
Both Kohut and Heflin are charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit escape.
Heflin has also been fired from his corrections job.