By nightfall Monday, the search was nearly three days old, but it finally paid off. Aaron James, a 24-year-old sentenced to 50 years in prison for second degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery, was found hiding in the dark. His second attempt to escape had failed.
James was the last of six inmates who escaped Sunday morning to be recaptured. None got far from the maximum-security prison, and all were back behind bars within 36 hours.
James was pulled from a crawl space beneath a home about seven miles from the prison.
"He was out there boozing it up with some old friends," said Capt. Michael Tyler of the state Department of Correction. "After they got through with the party, somebody said, 'Hey guys, he's worth a lot of money.'"
James offered no resistance when he was found, Tyler said. Neither did any of the other escapees. Officials wouldn't comment when asked whether the friends would actually get the reward.
He had tried to escape once before from Riverbend prison, but guards shot out the tires of his stolen truck before he could bust through a prison fence.
Lyle Van Ulzen, 33, a convicted murderer and arsonist, and burglar Jay Denton, 32, were captured about 11 a.m. Monday near a lumber yard three miles from the prison. Nine hours earlier, Billy Coffelt, 44, sentenced to life and a habitual criminal, was captured about two miles from the prison.
All three told officers they were wet, dirty, and tired.
The first two to be recaptured were Michael Perry, 26, who is awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges, and William Riley, 33, serving a life sentence for murder. They were found late Sunday hiding near the edge of a residential area about three miles from Riverbend.
Each inmate faces up to five more years in prison for the escape.
The prison, which once housed James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassin, is home to Tennessee's death row. It has about 700 inmates and is in a mostly industrial, wooded area along the Cumberland River.
There have been only two escapes in its nine-year history. In 1995, four inmates escaped in a hidden compartment in a truck. They were captured and a prison employee was convicted of aiding the escape.
In March, James and another convicted killer used a homemade knife to steal a delivery truck, which they drove through a fence. Guards shot out the tires before they made it through a second fence to freedom.