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Report: Overcrowding, unmanned towers led to convicted killer’s escape from facility

<i>LVMPD/KVVU</i><br/>Porfirio Duarte-Herrera was serving a life sentence for murder at the prison in Indian Springs when he escaped last September.
Arif, Merieme
Porfirio Duarte-Herrera was serving a life sentence for murder at the prison in Indian Springs when he escaped last September.

By C.C. McCandless

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    LAS VEGAS (KVVU) — A report from the Inspector General of the Nevada Department of Corrections has shed new light on the circumstances and methods involved in a prisoner’s escape from Southern Desert Correctional Center last year.

Porfirio Duarte-Herrera was serving a life sentence for murder at the prison in Indian Springs when he escaped last September. After five days on the run, he was captured in downtown Las Vegas on Sept. 28, 2022.

An investigation report on the escape was ordered the next day. The Inspector General’s report took an in-depth look at every step of Duarte’s process.

The report stated that corrections officers were informed by another inmate about Duarte’s escape three or four days after it happened. They went to his cell and found a dummy mimicking a human body on the bottom bunk.

A search of the rest of the unit and the prison grounds ensued, but Duarte was nowhere to be found. It appeared that he had broken out of his cell window, jumped over razor wire-laced fences, and escaped into the desert.

An investigator learned that Duarte had placed a phone call from the Offender Recorded Phone System in which he asked a woman if “she had received his five envelopes and the money that he had sent her.” He told her to hold onto the items “just in case of emergency.”

After she told Duarte that she had moved, he asked her how far she was from the prison. She replied by telling him that she was about 45 minutes away. Investigators were unsure if Duarte was in possession of a phone or if he borrowed one, but they noted that in the past 10 months, over 60 illegal cell phones were found inside the prison.

Duarte later arrived at the woman’s house after his prison break-out. He told her that he had finished his sentence, was discharged from prison, and that “he had been walking for a long time.” She gave him a ride and provided him wth $800, a black baseball cap and a backpack. Investigators secured surveillance video of Duarte being dropped off just as she described.

Investigators canvassed the area and hung flyers and “wanted” posters. On September 28, an employee from Las Vegas Shuttle called 911 to report that she believed she saw Duarte where she worked, adding that he had bought a ticket to Tijuana. Las Vegas police were dispatched and found Duarte about to enter a van that was headed to Mexico.

Police found a bus ticket, $101 and a false ID card with his photo on his person.

After he was taken back into custody, Duarte was interviewed by investigators and admitted that he had escaped SDCC on the evening of September 23, 2022 by hiding near a pony wall outside the unit and then climbing three prison fences. He then walked and ran all the way through the desert to Las Vegas, where he was given a bus ticket by a bystander.

He explained that he used cardboard and towels to craft the dummy he left behind in his bed. He said that he set it up in the bunk before dinner, and when he arrived back after eating he stayed outside and hid behind the wall for approximately five hours.

Duarte confirmed to detectives that he intended to go to Nicaragua to be with his father, brothers, and sisters. He added that he “had read chemical books, engineering books, etc.” and that he “became familiar with how to engineer things.”

He said that the idea of escaping came to him after an appeal of his conviction was denied. He added that he “knew the towers at the prison were not operational and had not been manned for the previous three years.”

He began planning his escape just 15-20 days prior to executing it. He said that he never would have attempted it if the towers were operational because he didn’t want to be shot. It took him about four minutes to climb over all three prison fences.

“You have to breathe,” he explained.

He wore leather gloves usually used by prison yard labor inmates to avoid getting cut by razor wire on the fences. He also said that there were too many inmates for the limited number of guards working on each unit, explaining that the ratio was approximately 200 inmates for every guard or officer.

He confirmed that nobody helped him escape.

An additional felony charge for the prison escape was filed against him on October 10 and he is due in court on November 2.

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