Hilkey hopes escapee still within grasp

QUICKREAD

Escapee’s timeline

• Sept. 9, 2008: Shane Edward Johnson, 40, of Clifton, escapes from a medium-security wing of the Mesa County Jail, eight days before he faced a potential 150-year sentence in prison related to more than two-dozen burglaries in 2006. Johnson’s wife, Marilynne, 46, of Colorado Springs, is wanted by authorities as the suspected getaway driver behind the wheel of a Toyota sedan. Johnson is the first inmate to successfully escape since the jail opened in June 1992.

• Jan. 14, 2009: The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department announces the arrest of the Johnsons in the Baja region of Mexico. Detained after a traffic stop, Shane Johnson was investigated in connection with residential burglaries in the area. The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department estimates extradition within 30 days. Authorities announce charges against a state prison inmate, Rodney Price, 31, for aiding and abetting Johnson’s escape.

• Feb. 2, 2009: Marilynne Johnson is booked into the Mesa County Jail following her release by Mexican immigration authorities to the custody of U.S. counterparts at a California border crossing.

• Feb. 22, 2010: Marilynne Johnson is sentenced to six years in prison, the maximum term allowed under a plea agreement with prosecutors, after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit escape.

• April 2010: Local officials learn a new judge in Mexico has been appointed to review Shane Johnson’s case in Mexico. This, after a previous judge had concluded local charges would not be filed against Johnson in connection with the burglary investigation that resulted in his arrest in Mexico. Johnson remains jailed in lieu of paying a $1,200 fine, and Mexico immigration authorities have placed a “hold” on him,  preventing his release.



Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said he has relished the prospect of taking vacation in the Baja region of Mexico, which ideally would include a face-to-face sit-down with the man who embarrassed Hilkey and his staff.

“I won’t deny taking a little bit of satisfaction in looking him in the eye and telling him he didn’t get away with it,” Hilkey said in a recent interview.

The mere mention of Mesa County’s most notorious jail escapee under Hilkey’s tenure, 42-year-old Shane Edward Johnson, still raises stress levels.

When FBI colleagues passed on information several weeks ago indicating a new judge in Mexico had been appointed to review Johnson’s case, Hilkey had more reason for concern.

“We don’t understand what that means,” Hilkey said of the judge’s review.

Hilkey said the FBI, with which Mesa County officials continue to work toward returning Johnson to the United States, has explained that a previous judge handling Johnson’s case declined to pursue charges related to a series of residential burglaries in the Baja region in January 2009, when Johnson and his wife, Marilynne, were arrested there. It’s unclear why charges weren’t pressed, the sheriff said.

Johnson was ordered to a pay a fine of $1,200, and he can’t be released because of a hold placed on him by Mexican immigration authorities, according to Hilkey.

“If there’s just a small fine keeping him in prison, we sure hope that immigration hold sticks,” he said, adding he continues to press federal authorities on Mesa County’s interest in Johnson. Adding to Hilkey’s frustration is a lack of understanding of Mexico’s judicial process, such as pinpointing a date for Johnson’s next appearance in Mexican court.

“There’s no real trigger point,” Hilkey said. “Everything’s kind of open-ended.”

Denver FBI spokesman Dave Joly said a team of agents and lawyers in Mexico are tasked with monitoring all U.S. fugitives in custody.

“We’re counting on Mexican immigration bringing him to the U.S. border,” Joly said. “But information from (Mexican) authorities is not steady. Sometimes we have an abundance of information, and it just stops.”

Joly said they have worked cases when U.S. fugitives disappear from custody, with word reaching the FBI well after the fact.

“Some we’re still looking for today,” Joly said. “We understand (Hilkey’s) frustrations, and we’re doing everything we can to support his needs.”


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