Authorities look at family, friends who could have helped rapist flee after conviction

gkocher1@herald-leader.com; jkegley@herald-leader.comAugust 9, 2012 

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    Anyone with information about this case is asked to call police at (859) 258-3600 or the Fayette County sheriff's office at (859) 252-1771.

Law enforcement officials are tightening the noose in the nationwide hunt for convicted rapist and former Army Ranger John C. Buckley IV by investigating friends and relatives who might have helped him escape from the Fayette Circuit Courthouse last month.

Lexington police said Thursday morning that an arrest warrant had been issued for Buckley's mother, Sandra Merritt of Colorado. Merritt is charged with filing a false report related to her son's escape, police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.

On Thursday afternoon, Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt announced at a news conference that John Lee Williams, 42, a former cellmate of Buckley's, had been arrested for hindering Buckley's apprehension. The sheriff called it a major break in the case.

Buckley was out of jail on bond during a three-day trial last month on charges of rape, sodomy, assault and unlawful imprisonment of an ex-girlfriend. He left the courthouse while the jury was deliberating; when the trial resumed and the jury announced Buckley had been found guilty on all counts, Buckley was nowhere to be found.

Authorities have said he used his mother's rental car to flee Lexington. Late last month, Georgetown police found the car abandoned at a Walgreens drugstore in Scott County. A warrant was issued for Merritt because police said she told them the car had been stolen by someone else.

"She reported her rental car was stolen by a stranger, and preliminary information indicates she likely knew that it was her son and not a stranger who took this rental car," Roberts said.

Fayette County sheriff's office investigators received surveillance video from the Walgreens where the car was abandoned and from a gas station along the route Buckley traveled, said Jay Pittman, a sergeant with the sheriff's office.

The videos showed Williams, Buckley's former cellmate, riding with him in the car, Pittman said. The men ditched the car in Georgetown and got into another vehicle, which dropped off Buckley out of state, he said.

Williams then came back to Lexington. He was arrested Thursday.

A third person, whom Pittman would not identify, was also in the car with Buckley and Williams. "More charges could come out of this incident," Pittman said.

Witt said Williams was cooperating with authorities in the investigation into Buckley's disappearance. She had a message for Buckley during Thursday's news conference.

"We're asking him, calling upon him, to turn himself in. It's critical. He's now had a former cellmate charged. Since he chose to jump his bail on July 12, he has had additional charges placed against him. His mother now has an outstanding warrant against her," Witt said. "So I can't stress to him enough that it would be in his best interest to turn himself in."

Following Buckley's trial on charges that he raped an ex-girlfriend in 2010, the jury recommended he serve 20 years in prison. Since his escape, he has been charged with several new crimes, including contempt of court, first-degree bail jumping, tampering with a prisoner monitoring device and intimidating a participant in a legal process, Pittman said.

The U.S. Marshal's Service also has issued a federal warrant for Buckley's arrest, Witt said.

Buckley was out of jail on bond during the trial, meaning he was not directly supervised by police, corrections officers or sheriff's deputies.

As a condition of his release, Buckley had been ordered to wear an ankle monitor that tracked his location. He apparently cut it off and left it in the street near his home.

Police consider Buckley to be dangerous. Because of his violent past, authorities are concerned that Buckley might try to harm victims, detectives and prosecutors who were involved in his case. Anyone with information is asked to call police at (859) 258-3600 or the Fayette County sheriff's office at (859) 252-1771.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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