An inmate who escaped from state custody this week in New Orleans, breaking through the back window of a prison van, was captured Thursday after a tipster spotted him at a laundromat in Marrero, ending a three-day manhunt. Meanwhile, authorities arrested a guard from East Feliciana Parish suspected of aiding the inmate in his escape.
The fugitive, Lorenzo Conner, who had been awaiting trial on murder charges, was taken into custody without incident Thursday morning, said Col. John Fortunato, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman. The arrest came after authorities received an anonymous call about a suspect fitting Conner’s description, Fortunato said.
Conner, 24, eluded two state Department of Health and Hospitals employees who had been taking him early Tuesday from the state mental health facility in Jackson to the Orleans Parish Criminal District Courthouse, authorities said. Conner had been housed at the Feliciana Forensic Facility after being found incompetent to stand trial in a 2011 fatal shooting.
Several details surrounding Conner’s escape remained unclear Thursday. But as authorities sought to piece together what happened, they arrested Antonio Webb, a guard at the Jackson facility who was seen on surveillance video conferring with Conner three days before his escape — a meeting that violated policy and raised suspicion.
Webb, 37, of Wilson, was booked with one count of malfeasance in office. An arrest report said he left his post Saturday and went into the area in which Conner was being held, where he “had several minutes of contact with him.”
“According to administrators at the facility, Webb is strictly forbidden to leave his post or have any personal contact with any patient at the facility,” the report says.
Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent, said Webb “supposedly handed (Conner) something.”
“What that is, we have our suspicions, but we’ll work toward the facts on that,” Edmonson said. “He was a worker in the other part of the facility who should not have had any contact with (Conner) and clearly did.”
Webb, in a telephone interview Thursday, said his arrest was a “big misconception,” claiming the authorities were trying to scapegoat him for Conner’s escape. He acknowledged speaking with Conner on Saturday but said the two spoke “only for a couple of seconds.” He said he is not friends with the inmate.
Webb said investigators have accused him of giving Conner a key, but added, “I don’t have access to anything like that.”
He said he had given Conner advice because he had a court date approaching. He refused to elaborate.
“They’re trying to just pin me to whatever happened,” Webb said. “They’re just going off what they assumed happened.”
In interviews, Webb’s mother and grandmother also expressed outrage at the arrest, saying Webb would have no motive to aid Conner in his escape.
Webb said he did not know what his status is now at the state facility. A DHH spokeswoman did not return a call late Thursday seeking that information.
Conner’s escape happened after 5 a.m. Tuesday near Tulane Avenue and South Telemachus Street. Authorities have said he was shackled but managed to free himself.
DHH officials have declined to release further details about the escape, and they have not said whether the employees tasked with transporting Conner followed protocol.
“It’s still a little early to put all the facts together,” Edmonson said. “Our main goal is to provide procedures and protocols to keep this from happening in the future.”
Staff writer Ben Wallace contributed to this report. Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.