Second trial for deadly attempted Pasquotank prison escape about to begin in Manteo

Published 2:52 pm Wednesday, October 4, 2023

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Wisezah Datawn Buckman made a brief appearance in Dare County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon for preliminary motions related to more than a dozen pending felony charges.

Buckman is one of four persons charged with crimes related to the October 12, 2017 failed escape attempt at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City. During that escape attempt, about a dozen state employees and inmates were hurt and four state employees at the prison were killed: correctional officers Veronica Darden, Wendy Shannon and Justin Smith and maintenance mechanic Geoffrey Howe.

One of the four, Mikel Edward Brady II, admitted to being the “pack leader” during his October 2019 trial and was found guilty of four counts of murder and 10 other felony charges and sentenced to death by a Dare County jury for what turned out to be the deadliest prison escape attempt in the history of North Carolina.

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The trials for Brady, and now Buckman, were transferred from Pasquotank County, where the offenses occurred, to Dare County in an effort to avoid possible jury bias since too many people in Pasquotank knew about the case.

Like Brady, Buckman is facing the death penalty if convicted of the offenses charged: four counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted first degree murder, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill or inflict serious injury, and one count each of assault with a deadly weapon, burn certain public buildings, felony inciting to riot, and escape from state prison.

However, seeking the death penalty is not as simple or clear-cut as is often portrayed on popular media programs in that North Carolina law requires a number of complex legal steps be followed.

Buckman sat quietly at the defense table Tuesday while, after four years and five previous scheduled court dates, defense attorneys requested several last minute pre-trial motions related to what evidence can be used at trial, the wording for charges that will be prosecuted, requests for additional evidence, and requests that certain statements or evidence not be introduced as evidence.

After ruling on each motion request, Judge Jerry Tillett recessed court a little after 5 p.m. Tuesday with the announcement that court would resume in regular session at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, October 4, with the jury selection process likely to start some time later in the day.