Convicted murderer Reese caught by authorities
A convicted murderer from Saline County is back in custody after eluding authorities for three days.
Curtis Dewain Reese Jr., who was serving a 30-year sentence for a double homicide in 1998, had escaped from an Arkansas Department of Correction facility on Monday and captured by authorities on Thursday.
Reese, 33, was found inside a cave in Cleburne County, near Pangburn in White County. Correction Department spokeswoman Shea Wilson said authorities had received information that Reese was in the area. She noted that he was taken into custody without incident.
The capture of Reese was conducted by the ADC, Arkansas State Police and the U.S. Marshal Service.
"He (Reese) was in good condition," Wilson said. "He is expected to face escape charges, but that will be up to the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's Office."
Because Reese did not harm any persons during the escape, as far as authorities know at this point, he is expected to be charged with second-degree escape. He was transferred to the Varner SuperMax Unit in Grady.
The escape reportedly occurred while Reese and another inmate, 40-year-old James B. Ryan, were working in the prison bus barn at the Tucker Unit, where they refurbishing an Arkansas Forestry Commission tanker truck. Authorities said the two hid inside the truck and jumped from the vehicle on Arkansas 15 after the driver had left the facility.
Ryan, who was convicted of first-degree murder, was taken into custody Monday in the area of Ferda.
Regarding Reese's ability to elude authorities for three days, Wilson said he "obviously had help getting to that area." She added that "more arrests could be made" as the investigation continues.
Wilson said there was "no indication" that Reese and Ryan received help from any ADC staff in escaping from the Tucker facility.
"Obviously we are thrilled to have him (Reese) back in custody," she said. "We greatly appreciate the community and the media for all their efforts to keep this news at the forefront. Without their help, we wouldn't have been able to find them (Reese and Ryan)."
Reese was serving a 40-year sentence for the July 9, 1997, deaths of Saline County residents Eric "Oggie" Ogden, 20, and Lance Kelloms, 18.
Reese was not alone in the double murders during the summer of 1997. Though he took his case to trial on Nov. 24, 1998, an accomplice — then 19-year-old Jason Gayworth Meredith — was sentenced by Saline County Circuit Judge John Cole to two concurrent life terms in a negotiated plea arrangement.
The state, represented by former deputy prosecuting attorney Brent Standridge, had sought the death penalty for Reese on the charge of capital murder. Paul K. "Pete" Lancaster represented Reese.
Standridge said that Ogden and Kelloms were killed for drugs and $1,500 that Ogden earned from working at a fireworks stand. Standridge argued that Reese was the shooter and Meredith was the accomplice, but Lancaster contended the opposite was true.
In a confession, Reese claimed that it was Meredith's idea to murder the two young men. He told authorities that Meredith arranged to meet Ogden and Kelloms at an unoccupied mobile home on Goodwin Road, a remote area of Saline County. Reese then told authorities that Meredith said "he was going to kill Oggie," but Reese said he believed Meredith was joking. Reese then said he went to the back of the trailer to go to the restroom when he heard gunshots and returned to see Meredith holding a .22-caliber rifle.
Former state medical examiner Charles P. Kokes later testified that Ogden was shot twice in the head at close range and Kelloms was shot four times in the head, face and back. The bodies of Ogden and Kelloms was found on Goodwin Road early July 10, 1997, by a Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. employee.
Meredith first told authorities that he knew "nothing about the killings," then later claimed that Reese was the shooter. But when Meredith took the stand in Reese's trial, he claimed to have "no memory of the events of July 9-10, 1997."
Judge Cole then allowed prior testimony from Meredith about the events leading up to the murders. The prior testimony occurred in a June trial for Reese that ended in a mistrial when Meredith made reference to a polygraph examination after he had been instructed in the judge's chambers not to mention the test. It was in that earlier testimony that Meredith had implicated Reese as the killer of Ogden and Kelloms.
Cole had ruled that he would allow testimony from Phillip Rains, an inmate in the Saline County jail, who said he had had conversations with Reese in which Reese allegedly claimed to have shot the victims. However, prosecutors decided not to call Rains to the stand.
The jury deliberated for less than two hours on Nov. 25 before convicting Reese of first-degree murder.
The decision was appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which denied an appeal for Reese on Nov. 6, 2003.
According to the Correction Department, before Reese's escape, he was expected to be eligible for parole on July 4, 2025.
Courier staff writer Lynda Hollenbeck contributed to this story.