Published: 2:09 pm, Tue. Nov. 1st, 2016Updated: 2:08 pm
Two New Mexico inmates pleaded not guilty Monday at their arraignment on charges of escaping from the back of a prison van earlier this year.
Convicted felons Lionel Clah and Joseph Cruz both entered the pleas in state court in Carlsbad, the district attorney’s office said. It was not immediately clear when they will stand trial on the charges.
Authorities say the two bolted from a prison van during a gas stop in Artesia and hitched a ride 200 miles north to Albuquerque from a local man who state police say helped free them from their shackles. Officers did not realize the two inmates had escaped until hours later when the van arrived at a Las Cruces prison.
A massive manhunt led to Cruz and Clah’s separate arrests days later in Albuquerque. Clah, who shot at a police officer near Farmington in 2007, already is serving a 30-year sentence. Cruz had been sentenced to life in prison on a first-degree murder conviction.
According to Corrections Department records obtained by The Associated Press, the corrections officers who transported them the night they escaped had just left the Artesia gas station when they heard the vehicle’s locks click. State police have said Cruz and Clah broke out of the prison van after picking the locks on their handcuffs with some sort of wire. After managing to unlock the vehicle’s doors, they exited the van and were offered a ride by a man also pumping gas.