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Escapee gets 40 years for 15 hours of freedom

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Clay Sterling Harvey, 44, of Beaumont was sentenced to 40 years in prison today in the 75th District Court by Judge Mark Morefield.

On Aug. 20, 2019, around 1 o’clock in the morning, Harvey and Chance Hunt stacked items in their cell in the Liberty County Jail so they could enter a maintenance hatch in the ceiling. Once inside, they crawled through ductwork and exited onto the roof. They used sheets to cover razor wire and climbed down the side of the building. They then entered the recreation yard and located wire cutters which had been thrown over the fence by accomplices on the outside. Using the wire cutters to create a hole in the exterior fence, they ran south over the railroad tracks to a waiting car.

Several hours passed without the discovery of their escape because guards falsely indicated on their count sheets that all inmates were accounted for. When the next shift began, a proper count was done. It was then that the discovery of the missing inmates was made but they had a 5 ½ hour head start.

A manhunt ensued that resulted in the quick capture of the inmates in San Jacinto County around 5 p.m. the same day.

Harvey pled guilty to the escape charge and admitted to possessing 14 ounces of methamphetamine, which was the charge he was in jail for at the time of the escape.

District Attorney Logan Pickett presented evidence of numerous prior felony convictions, including felony drug possessions, burglary of a habitation and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Prior to sentencing and in exchange for Harvey’s waiver of a jury trial, Pickett agreed to a cap on sentencing of 45 years. Harvey’s minimum possible sentence because of his status as a habitual offender was 25 years.

The defense offered evidence of Harvey’s cooperation after his capture as mitigation for his punishment and asked for 25.

Pickett countered that the criminal resume of Harvey necessitated the maximum of 45.

Judge Morefield heard both arguments, considered all the evidence and sentenced Harvey to 40 years in TDC. Though Harvey is eligible for release on parole after serving less than 5 years of his sentence, it is unlikely he will be released for a long time after that because of his criminal history and the danger a convicted escapee poses to the community.

Hunt has previously been sentenced to 15 years for the escape.

Four guards have been terminated and all face tampering with government document charges for their false statements in the count sheets. Two accomplices who drove Harvey and Hunt away from the jail await disposition or trial of their cases.

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