Four Pasquotank inmates charged with murder in failed prison break

Top Row: Wisezah Buckman and Jonathan Monk. Bottom Row: Seth Frazier and Mikel Brady. (Photos courtesy: NC Dept. of Public Safety).

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) — Four inmates have been charged with first-degree murder in a failed breakout at the Pasquotank prison last week.

A joint news conference was held Friday morning in Pasquotank County — where officials announced the charges against Wisezah Buckman, Seth Frazier, Mikel Brady and Jonathan Monk.

Two prison employees died and several others were injured Oct. 12, after inmates started a fire at the prison’s sewing plant. Several inmates attempted to escape following the fire, but officials said no inmates left the prison yard.

Justin Smith, a 35-year-old correctional officer and Veronica Darden, a 50-year-old correction enterprises manager, were identified as the two people killed.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Randy Cartwright noted at the news conference he has met with the families of the two killed.

“They loved them to death, they were all good people, this is just tragic,” Cartwright said.

Two workers remain hospitalized with injuries from the incident. Another correctional officer who was injured, George Midgett, was released from the hospital earlier this week.

Related: Public Safety takes action to improve safety after employee deaths

WATCH: Full news conference update on Oct. 20, 2017. WAVY App users can see the video here.

In Friday’s news conference, Cartwright addressed rumors of prisoners escaping during attempted break, saying it didn’t happen; it was only fueled by social media.

District Attorney Andrew Womble said this case is the most serious matter he has ever prosecuted. He said that he thinks a lot about the families of Smith and Darden.

“The investigation is ongoing, and these are the only four inmates that are being charged at this time,” Womble said.

Womble said he wanted to seek the first-degree murder charges before the Grand Jury meets Oct. 30.

“That’s the message we want to send. The investigation is thorough, and done by professionals. It is being handled the right way,” Womble added.

Cartwright would not go into details on how the four inmates charged associated with each other. 10 On Your Side found court records on the four inmates, which show their previous charges.

Buckman was serving time for second-degree murder; Frazier was serving time for first-degree burglary and several other charges including possession of a firearm by a felon; Monk was in prison for attempted first-degree murder; and Brady was also serving time for attempted first-degree murder.

Cartwright says the investigation will center on how all four ended up in the sewing plant, and how they planned the attempted escape.  He noted the prison is still on lockdown.

All four have been transferred to other prisons that have stronger security.

The Sheriff also says they’ve never trained for a full prison uprising scenario, but performance during this episode will be fully vetted for training purposes.

“We will go back, and do a debrief  in what can we do better,” Cartwright said. “Where did we drop the ball, what can we do better.” He also noted a lot of things went right, and although this was an extreme tragedy, it could have been a lot worse.

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety announced new actions taken at the prison. These included permanently shuting down operations at the sewing plant.

10 On Your Side asked Womble about the death penalty for these crimes considered so heinous. His answer indicates the death penalty is on the table.

“First-degree in North Carolina is the most serious crime that can be in North Carolina. It can only have two possible punishments: one is life without parole, and the second is the death penalty,” Womble said. “I can assure you my office plans to prosecute this to the fullest extent of the law.”

Memorial services for Darden and Smith have been set for this week at the Floyd L. Robinson Auditorium on Elizabeth City State University.

The service for Darden is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Oct. 21, while Smith’s service is set for 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 22.