Two dangerous convicts escaped from the Iowa State Penitentiary Monday night by climbing over a limestone wall where a guard tower was vacant because of state budget cuts, the Des Moines Register reports. Martin Moon, 34, serving a life sentence for murder, and Robert Legendre, 27, serving life for attempted murder and kidnapping, used an improvised rope and a grappling hook to scale one of the walls surrounding the prison’s maximum-security unit.
The inmates climbed the wall in the southwest corner, where a guard tower is staffed only until 3 p.m. daily. The plan to reduce staffing in guard towers at three prisons was included in Gov. Tom Vilsack’s budget package in 2002. The legislature approved the proposal, which saved $1.5 million annually by eliminating 38 correctional officers’ positions. The action was criticized at the time by state Sen. Eugene Fraise. “Well, right here it is. We told you so,” Fraise said yesterday. Prison officials had contended that all guard towers didn’t need to be staffed when there wasn’t activity in the prison yard. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents prison officers, also protested the plan, contending it would endanger public safety.