One of two escaped NM inmates is apprehended

Other convict with Four Corners ties remains on the run

Mary Hudetz and Morgan Lee
The Associated Press
Joseph Cruz
  • One of two convicts who escaped this week during a prisoner transport has been arrested.
  • Lionel Clah, who was serving time for shooting a San Juan County deputy, is still at-large.
  • Police say Clah could return to northwest New Mexico because he has ties to the region.
  • The U.S. Marshals Office is offering $10,000 for information leading to the capture of Clah.

ALBUQUERQUE — A convicted murderer who escaped from a New Mexico prisoner transport van and eluded authorities for nearly two days was captured Friday as investigators searched the state for the other inmate who had fled with him, the U.S Marshals Service said.

Joseph Cruz, 32, was taken into custody in Albuquerque after a brief foot chase, deputy federal marshal Ben Segotta said. The inmate managed to escape two nights earlier along a remote stretch of a southern New Mexico highway and get a several-hour head start on his run from law enforcement before authorities said guards reported he was missing.

Lionel Clah, a 29-year-old convicted of armed robbery and for shooting a San Juan County Sheriff's Office sergeant, also escaped the van with Cruz and remained on the run.

His brother, Derick Clah, who lives in Farmington, told The Daily Times on Friday evening that he was concerned for his sibling's safety. The two brothers grew up together, but Derrick Clah said he has not spoken to his brother in several years.

"I hope he is OK, and I hope he makes a smart choice," he said in a phone interview. "We don't know what he is going through, but we hope he makes the smart choice. And we are still here for him."

Corrections officials haven't said whether they know exactly where or when the men managed to escape, but they said it was sometime after 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and along a roughly 200-mile route between correctional facilities in Roswell and Las Cruces that included a gas-station stop in a smaller desert town.

Authorities didn't realize the men were missing until 1 a.m. Thursday, Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel said.

Marcantel said the two unidentified guards in charge of transporting the prisoners were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into the escape.He and other state officials scrambled Friday to answer embarrassing questions about the missteps that could have been made that night, including how two felons bound by shackles somehow slipped away in white prison jumpsuits and vanished into the night with no one noticing, possibly for hours. The questions only helped to highlight concerns raised in recent months as the corrections department struggles with a budget crisis, a guard shortage, overworked employees and other problems.

"Anything less would be remiss," he said as he left a news briefing.

Cruz has been serving a life sentence for a first-degree murder conviction since 2007 for killing a man over drugs in Raton.

Lionel Clah

Clah was serving a 30-year prison sentence for shooting Sgt. Korey Faulk during a high speed-chase in May 2007.

To resolve both the 2006 robbery and the 2007 chase, Clah pleaded no contest in April 2009 to three counts of assault on a peace officer with a deadly weapon, armed robbery with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. He was then sentenced to 30 years in prison.Clah was also arrested in June 2006 after he and two juveniles stole a vehicle in Shiprock and went on a crime spree, robbing a store clerk at gunpoint and stealing pornographic movies and money from an adult book store, according to Daily Times archives.

New Mexico State Police Sgt. Elizabeth Armijo said in an email to The Daily Times on Friday that residents in Farmington and the surrounding area should remain on high alert due to Clah’s ties to the region.

“As a reminder, Clah has a very distinct tattoo across his face, making him especially identifiable,” Armijo said.

Clah also has “Shiprock Native” tattooed on his neck, according to a state police press release sent Thursday.

Armijo said on Friday that police have spoken with Clah’s relatives in the region, but “we can’t discuss details about interviews, as that information could compromise our work in apprehending the fugitives.”

Armijo also declined to say what the agency has done locally to search for Clah.

Artesia Police Department officers join New Mexico State Police, SWAT and other agencies gather while investigating a lead in the morning at a home in Artesia on Thursday. Authorities were searching Thursday for two violent convicts who escaped from a prisoner transport van and likely got a head start of several hours in a remote area of New Mexico before guards realized they were gone. T

Just hours before announcing Cruz was apprehended in a multi-agency investigation, the U.S. Marshals Office offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of each of the men.

State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said Cruz was taken into custody near the University of New Mexico.

He wouldn't say whether investigators had determined how Cruz and Clah escaped the fortified prison van that was transporting them from the state penitentiary in Santa Fe to the southern region of the state.

After completing a headcount in Roswell, the two corrections officers pulled away from a state prison facility with five prisoners and all of their belongings in tow for the last leg of what had already been a long journey.

It wasn't long before they stopped in the next town to put gas in the van. They left the convenience store in Artesia and turned off the main highway and crossed through nearly 200 miles of desert and a mountain range before arriving at their final destination in Las Cruces, where Cruz and Clah were reported missing.

New Mexico State Police released surveillance video photos on Thursday that show Lionel Clah and Joseph Cruz early on Thursday morning at Gibson Boulevard and University Avenue in Albuquerque. The two convicts escaped from custody on Wednesday evening.

By that time, the men were likely already en route to Albuquerque, where surveillance video showed both in a change of clothes at a hotel around 4:30 a.m. Thursday. That same hour, state police first alerted the public that two convicts who should be considered armed and dangerous were on the loose.

Authorities raised the likelihood that the getaway happened at the Artesia gas station and that the fugitives received assistance from o

thers. But they wouldn't disclose what surveillance video from that gas station may have revealed.

"We're definitely talking to family members, friends, associates, whatnot," Kassetas said.

While the authorities' search for the men had covered much of the state, U.S. Marshal Conrad Candelaria said his agency was also focusing on northwestern New Mexico because of Clah's ties to the area.

Earlier this week, San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen told The Daily Times that he "absolutely" considers Clah armed and dangerous.

"I'd like the public to be aware he is very dangerous, and they need to be on the alert," he said.

Daily Times reporter Steve Garrison contributed to this story. 

Authorities stop motorists on U.S. 285 between Roswell and Artesia as part of the hunt for the two missing inmates Thursday.