Inmate scaled three fences knowing guard towers were vacant in ‘22 escape
The inmate said he “would not have attempted to escape if the towers had been operational,” a report says
By Jeff Burbank
Las Vegas Review-Journal
LAS VEGAS — A convicted killer whose 2022 prison escape led to the resignation of the state prison director used lotion and electricity to break out of his cell window and needed only minutes to scale three fences, knowing that the prison’s towers were not manned.
A 16-page report made last December by a U.S.-led task force and released Thursday by the Nevada Department of Corrections details the planning, escape and capture of Porfirio Duarte-Herrera, who left the Southern Desert Correctional Center 37 miles northeast of Las Vegas on Sept. 23, 2022, and was arrested five days later.
The daring escape from the prison was denounced by then-Gov. Steve Sisolak as “a serious and unacceptable breach of protocol” and induced state Corrections Director Charles Daniels to resign on Sept. 30, 2022.
State officials complained that the department under Daniels did not notify law enforcement until four days after learning that Duarte could not be found at the prison. Eight correctional officers were placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation.
In the report, Duarte, 43, sentenced to life in prison in 2010 for first degree murder, described how he eluded prison authorities to state and local investigators who were working with the Pacific Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force run by the U.S. Marshals Service in Los Angeles.
Duarte stated he decided to escape in part because of the failure of the appeal of his conviction for the murder of Willebaldo Dorantes Antonio, who died in the blast of a bomb set on his car in the parking lot of the Luxor in 2007 by Duarte and Duarte’s friend Omar Rueda-Denvers, also convicted of murder.
Rueda-Denvers arranged the bomb attack to bring harm to an ex-girlfriend who was romantically linked to Dorantes Antonio, prosecutors said.
Duarte’s other reason was that he knew the prison’s guard towers “had not been manned for the previous three years” and “he would not have attempted to escape if the towers had been operational, specifically stating not wanting to be shot,” according to the report.
He stated he fashioned a “dummy” made from cardboard and towels and put it in his bunk prior to going to dinner on the evening of his escape.
With dinner over, Duarte stated that he hid behind a partition for five hours and while wearing gloves to avoid injury he climbed three prison fences, “one without razor wire and two with razor wire,” in a matter of only about four minutes.
“He stated that he used gloves (all leather) that prison yard labor inmates would regularly use,” based on the report.
Task force investigators determined Duarte broke through the cell window after using an electronic device he made, falsely claiming it was a hair trimmer, to operate as a transducer to supply electrical current through Suave Brand lotion smeared on the metal slats attached to the window frame to erode it.
“Research revealed that lotions are incredible electrical conductors due to the lanolin and other chemical make-up of the lotion,” the report stated.
“This investigator opines that Duarte used the transducer/voltage reducer device that Duarte manufactured and that the lotion as a conductor to eventually cut through the window slat or at the very least to degrade the metal.”
“It is highly possible,” investigators wrote, that he used the method “to eventually weaken the metal enabling Duarte to force or kick the slat from the frame thereby creating an opening for his small stature (5’4” 135 lbs.) to fit through.”
The probe into Duarte’s escape, which included investigators from the state Attorney General’s Inspector General’s office and detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department, discovered yet another factor — his use of an illegal mobile phone.
The report stated that as of September last year, “in the previous 10 months there has been over 60 illegal cellphones found in the prison and was likely that Duarte was in possession of an illegal cellular phone.”
Duarte used the phone to call his niece in Las Vegas the day he escaped to see if she received money he had sent and asked her to pick him up at Mount Charleston and U.S. Highway 95, which she declined.
Duarte, who claimed to have walked to Las Vegas, appeared at the home of his sister-in-law on Sept. 27 and told her that he had completed his sentence.
She agreed to give him $800 cash and a ride in her car to a station on Bonanza Road to catch a passenger van to Tijuana, Mexico.
While at the station, he bought a ticket to Tijuana for $101. On Sept. 28, state investigators distributed wanted flyers and posters with Duarte’s photo at local bus stations.
Time had already to run out for Duarte when his niece learned about his escape on the news and called 911, fearing he might harm her for not agreeing to pick him up.
On Sept. 28, at 9:40 p.m., an employee at the station on Bonanza called 911 to report seeing Duarte there, based on a wanted flyer, only minutes from his 9:59 p.m. scheduled departure for Mexico. Duarte used a fake name on a counterfeit consular ID he bought for $120 at a swap meet.
But Las Vegas police arrested him on suspicion of being an escaped prisoner, a felony. Duarte is currently housed at the High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, according to state prison records.