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U.S. marshals take lead, increase reward in search for escaped prisoner in Maryland

The U.S. Marshals Service has taken over the search for a maximum-security inmate who eluded police for a fourth day after escaping from the parking lot of a state mental hospital in Jessup Friday morning.

The prisoner, David M. Watson II, 28, freed himself from handcuffs and a waist chain and escaped from the custody of two Wicomico County Detention Center guards in the parking lot of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup about 9:40 a.m. Friday, officials said.

Watson, convicted in Delaware of attempted murder after shooting into a police officer's home in 2012, is already serving a 106-year sentence in that state. He was transported to Perkins, Maryland's maximum security mental hospital, so he could be evaluated before possible prosecution for similar incidents in this state.

In 2014, a Wicomico County circuit judge ruled that Watson was not mentally competent to stand trial on charges he had fired into the homes of police officers in Maryland. He has undergone regular psychiatric evaluations since then, officials said.

The reward for information on his whereabouts has been raised to $10,000.

"This is someone who is a violent offender and who has a history of attempted murder against law enforcement officers, so it is — for us and the community — critical that we bring him into custody," Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said. "That's why our search is expanding, and that's why the U.S. marshals have now become the lead agency."

Observers said it is unusual — and expensive — to prosecute someone who has already been convicted and sentenced to a lengthy term in another state. But it is sometimes done in high-profile cases. For example, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the Washington Beltway snipers, were prosecuted in both Virginia and Maryland.

"It would not be something that you would do in the normal course, because you have to take into account the resources you have available to you and that they're being used in the most efficient manner," said Gregg Bernstein, a former Baltimore state's attorney.

The second prosecution appears to be aimed at providing justice for the Maryland police officers who Watson is accused of targeting — "vindicating the rights of those victims"— said Glenn Ivey, a former Prince George's County state's attorney.

Ella Disharoon, the acting state's attorney for Wicomico County, did not respond to messages seeking comment. State Sen. James Mathias, whose district includes Wicomico County, said he supported Disharoon's decision to press ahead with the case.

"She works with a strong group of law enforcement there in Wicomico County who were affected by this," said Mathias, a Democrat.

It remains a mystery how Watson managed to free himself from handcuffs, a waist chain and leg shackles. As he was removed from a transport van, he knocked a Wicomico County jail guard to the ground and ran into the woods, officials said.

Watson's sweatpants and thermal shirt were found with handcuffs and a waist chain near the van, but police have not found the leg shackles, which would have prevented him from running or removing the sweatpants without ripping them, Llewellyn said.

"We know at some point he either was able to discard [the shackles] or at the very least take off one side, which enabled him to take off those sweatpants," she said.

State corrections facilities have "sally ports," two sets of gates that close behind transport vehicles before prisoners are removed to prevent them from leaving the premises. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees Perkins, did not respond to questions about security measures at the hospital. A spokeswoman said that describing security protocols would jeopardize the safety of patients and staff.

Maryland State Police have directed resources to the manhunt, and will continue to assist the U.S. marshals in the investigation, according to a spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan.

"The governor urges all Marylanders to remain vigilant and to immediately call authorities with any information that could lead to Watson's capture," the spokeswoman, Amelia Chasse, said in a statement.

Howard County police canvassed businesses near Perkins Monday, asking owners to check for thefts or break-ins and review their surveillance footage.

"We're hoping that as those businesses perhaps roll through their video surveillance from over the weekend, maybe we'll get some good footage," Llewellyn said.

Police suspended their ground search near the hospital Saturday afternoon, "after exhausting all search efforts in the immediate area" with officers, K-9 units and helicopters with heat-seeking technology, officials said. Investigators have followed up on several leads and interviewed Watson's family and acquaintances.

"We have no information that he's been in contact with anyone," Llewellyn said.

Police dogs followed Watson's trail through the woods into Anne Arundel County, officials said. Noticing train tracks, detectives contacted CSX Transportation and searched freight trains that had passed through the area. The trains had been traveling more than 50 mph, which would have made it difficult for Watson to board one. The search was unsuccessful.

Howard County detectives, the marshals and the state police have followed leads locally, in Wicomico County and in Delaware, where Watson has ties, officials said.

Watson is described as 5 feet 8 inches tall and 140 pounds. He has many tattoos, including between his eyes and under his right eye. The word "evil" is tattooed on the back of his neck. "Sin" is tattooed on his hand. He was wearing all-white clothing at the time of his escape.

He was picked up from Sussex County Correctional Facility in Delaware and taken to the Wicomico County Detention Center before being taken to Perkins in Jessup, officials said.

George Kaloroumakis, that county's corrections director, said video shows that correctional officers followed proper procedures in putting Watson in restraints before he left the Wicomico jail

A ruling by the Delaware Supreme Court from 2015 upholding Watson's conviction and other court filings lay out the case against him in that state.

In the early hours of Dec. 27, 2012, an officer with the Dewey Beach Police Department was awakened by a loud crash and found a bullet hole in his daughter's bedroom window. The bullet was on the floor in the next room.

Half an hour earlier, a Worcester County Sheriff's deputy home also was fired on. And two weeks before, another Maryland police officer's home was targeted.

In early January 2013, police stopped a man named Orrin Joudrey as he sped from Maryland into Delaware. They found a sniper rifle round in his car that matched one used in the attacks on the last officer's home, according to court records. Joudrey, 24, confessed to carrying out the shootings with Watson and testified against him as part of a plea deal.

To prove that Watson deliberately targeted police, prosecutors showed the jury a tattoo he drew on his arm of the number 187, as well as a poster board he spray-painted with the number.

The number refers to a part of the California criminal law dealing with murder that was popularized by rappers in the 1990s. But Joudrey testified that Watson specifically believed 187 meant "officer down," or referred to killing police. The code was a motto Watson lived by, Jourdey testified, and was his "whole makeup."

Joudrey remains in prison in Delaware.

Watson pleaded guilty to robbery in 2006, according to Delaware court records, and received a prison sentence and a lengthy probation term.

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