Captured fugitives returning to state

Published 12:04 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Louisiana prison fugitives Ricky Wedgeworth and Darian “Drake” Pierce, captured Monday in Memphis, are expected to be transferred to the Madison County Detention Center in Canton to be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Jackson, Vicksburg police Lt. Bobby Stewart said today.

“Based on what happened at the hearing yesterday, Wedgeworth is not being cooperative and it appears that Pierce has been cooperating with investigators in Tennessee,” he said.

Appearing in federal court in Memphis, Wedgeworth waived his right to a detention hearing and Pierce was assigned a detention hearing Friday, Stewart said.

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Both are in the Shelby County Jail in Memphis on federal warrants for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution filed by the U.S. Marshal’s Office, Stewart said, and each faces a number of charges from their 10 days on the run that will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Jackson.

The charges include federal counts of kidnapping resulting in death in Mississippi in the slaying of David M. Cupps, the Ohio man who was carjacked in Vicksburg on March 7, and carjacking in Tennessee for tying up a park ranger and stealing his truck in Madison County, Tenn., a few hours before their capture Monday.

“Under federal sentencing guidelines, the kidnapping resulting in death charge carries a potential death penalty,” Stewart said.

They also still face state charges in Louisiana for escape from a correctional facility and theft of a vehicle.

Stewart said the men probably will be transferred to Mississippi within about a week and he has no plans to travel to Memphis to question them. “The FBI interviewed them extensively, and I will get a copy of that interview,” Stewart said. When they are brought to the Madison County jail, Stewart and other Vicksburg investigators will work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Jackson, he said.

Wedgeworth, 36, who was serving time for armed robbery, and Pierce, 33, for attempted second-degree murder, had escaped March 4 from a state prison near Baton Rouge.

They are believed to have hitchhiked to Vicksburg and spent the weekend here before carjacking Cupps from a parking lot of a motel on Pemberton Square Boulevard. A safety inspector from Sunbury, Ohio, Cupps was in Vicksburg on an overnight business trip to Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station in Claiborne County.

Stewart said today police are still investigating the fugitives’ time in Vicksburg.

“We have interviewed other people (besides the man who drove them to Vicksburg) that came in contact with them,” he said. The encounters were non-threatening, he said, and there was no indication to the witnesses that they were dealing with convicted criminals until “after the fact.”

The fugitives were pulled over on Interstate 40 in West Tennessee on March 8, a day after Cupps’ kidnapping. They were driving his rental car but were able to get away from Tennessee state troopers.

Cupps’ body was found the next day outside a motel in Bessemer, Ala., and authorities said he had been beaten and strangled.

The fugitives were not spotted again until Monday, after they tied up the park worker in Jackson, Tenn. The worker was found at about 1:30 p.m., and authorities were alerted. About four hours later they were captured after a chase that involved DeSoto County deputies and Memphis police and Shelby County deputies.

More than 100 officers and investigators from the FBI and local and multistate law enforcement agencies were involved in the search centered in Jackson, Tenn., since last week.

During a news conference in Jackson Tuesday, Louisiana state police Col. Mike Edmondson called the death of Cupps a tragedy that should never have happened.

He said he called Cupps’ wife as the fugitives were being arrested.

“It was bittersweet,” Edmondson said. “She was very joyful and, of course,’ she was very sad, very emotional.”

Cupps funeral will be Friday in Westerville, Ohio.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.