Prison murder plot uncovered

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 30, 2003

WINTON – Local, state and federal officials are praising the quick action by authorities here at Rivers Correctional Institution (RCI) who uncovered and defused a murder plot that targeted four RCI employees.

On Monday, RCI employee Sylvia P. Wilkins, 44 of 103 Mt. Olive Road, Windsor, was arrested and charged with four counts of solicitation to commit a felony – first-degree murder. After being transported from the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office, Wilkins was placed in the Hertford County Jail under a $600,000 bond ($150,000 for each count).

Wilkins, a former teacher at Southwestern Bertie Middle School, made her first appearance on Tuesday in Hertford County District Court. A probable cause hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 12.

According to Lt. Steven Stephenson, Special Investigations Supervisor at RCI, Wilkins was employed as a vocational/computer teacher at the prison. She had been employed there for two years. The RCI inmate whose assistance was allegedly solicited by Wilkins was disciplined by prison officials for the role he played in the murder plot. His name cannot be publicly released.

Other than confirmation that the four intended murder targets were either co-workers or supervisors of Wilkins, those names were not released.

Lt. Stephenson could not comment on how long the murder plot was ongoing, saying that once he became aware of it on June 24, &uot;I immediately contacted Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan and Jerry Gaughran (Special Agent with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General).&uot;

&uot;We were contacted because prisons, including those owned privately such as RCI, are under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Inspector General,&uot; stated Gaughran.

In turn, Sheriff Vaughan asked for and received help with the investigation from Dwight Ransom, Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the SBI’s Northeastern North Carolina District.

Stephenson, Vaughan, Gaughran and Ransom met on June 30 to begin the process of sorting through the details of the alleged crime. That joint investigation uncovered a plot that Wilkins apparently orchestrated. Evidence gathered at this stage of the investigation reveals Wilkins contacted a RCI inmate in order to find out the name of a source outside of the prison who was capable of carrying out the murder plot.

After gaining that evidence, Sheriff Vaughan, working closing with RCI authorities, had warrants drawn for Wilkins’ arrest. She was arrested, without incident, on Monday at the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office after being summoned to Windsor to answer some questions.

&uot;Without the swift action by Lt. Stephenson and the full cooperation of (RCI) Warden Willie Scott, this investigation would not be the success it is at this stage,&uot; noted Gaughran. &uot;Warden Scott realized the severity of this case. He didn’t know how broad this solicitation for murder would turn out to be and neither did we.&uot;

He continued, &uot;This was all handled in a very professional manner. The state, federal and local authorities worked very well together. The level of professionalism shown between the various agencies investigating this case is the finest I’ve ever worked with.&uot;

Ransom echoed those thoughts by saying, &uot;This quick arrest would have not been possible without the joint cooperation between the different agencies. We at the SBI have worked plenty of criminal solicitation cases over the years. This was a bit different because of the nature of where the solicitation took place, inside a prison.&uot;

Vaughan thanked everyone for the assistance his office received in investigating the case. He especially praised the efforts of Lt. Stephenson and Warden Scott for quickly defusing a plot that, in his words, &uot;could have turned very, very ugly.&uot;

The investigation continues into the murder plot. Additional details will be publicized as they are made available.