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Escape plot foiled for lone woman on Tennessee Death Row

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - A prison guard and the boyfriend of the only woman on Tennessee's Death Row have been charged in connection with a thwarted plan to break her out of a woman's prison.

The prisoner, Christa Gail Pike, 36, was sentenced to death in March 1996 for the 1995 murder of 19-year-old Colleen Slemmer in Knoxville. She is being held at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.

Pike also is serving time for the attempted murder of a fellow inmate in 2004, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Correction, which together foiled the jail break plot.

"We thwarted it in its infant stages," said Kristin Helm, spokesperson for the bureau. "It would have been nearly impossible to carry out."

No details of the plot were released by law enforcement officials.

The month-old plot is coming to light now because of this week's arrests in the case, she said. The Department of Correction got information about a planned escape and requested the aid of the state investigators, according to Helm.

During the joint investigation, "officials recovered evidence of the planned escape and items of contraband within the prison and received information about correctional officer, Heflin, being involved in the plan," according to the bureau.

Heflin was receiving money and gifts for his role in planning the escape, Helm said.

A grand jury in Nashville indicted Justin Heflin, 23, who was formerly a correctional officer at the women's prison, on one count of bribery, one count of official misconduct, one count of conspiracy to commit escape and one count of facilitation to commit escape, according to information released by the state bureau.

Heflin was fired March 5 and jailed earlier this week, the bureau said.

The other man charged is Donald Kohut, 34, of Flemington, New Jersey, who was Pike's boyfriend and a regular visitor to the prison, Helm said.

Kohut, who got to know Heflin during these visits, was indicted on one count of bribery and another of conspiracy to commit escape. He was arrested by New Jersey State Police and is awaiting extradition.

The Department of Correction was unavailable for comment today on any possible discipline she might receive.

(Reporting By Andrew Stern)

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