A foiled escape attempt at the Morgan County Jail could cost a 35-year-old Jefferson City woman five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines for supplying a hacksaw blade to an inmate serving time on drug charges.
Amanda Leigh Lesh pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Matt J. Whitworth on May 6 to conspiring to help an inmate at the jail. She was named in a federal indictment in Dec. 2012.
In the plea, Lesh admitted that she smuggled a hacksaw blade into the cell occupied by Mitchell Atterberry, who was being held in the Morgan County jail on federal charges related to distributing methamphetamine. Atterberry’s cellmate, Steven Pyykola of Springfield, was also part of the escape attempt. Pyykola was convicted of three state murder charges and is serving three consecutive life sentences without parole.
According to the U. S. District's Attorney's office, Morgan County sheriff’s deputies received a tip on Nov. 14, 2012 about the escape attempt. They searched Atterberry’s cell where they found that the window had been damaged. The metal support beam had been cut most of the way through. They also found a 10-inch saw blade in the mat on the top bunk of the cell and a smaller two-inch saw blade that appeared to have broken off the larger blade.
Authorities reviewed telephone calls that Atterberry and Pyykola made to Lesh, in which they asked her to purchase saw blades and deliver them to the jail underneath their second story window.
Court documents said Atterberry and Pyykola would then slide a string out of a hole that had been made in the window to the ground where Lesh would tie on the items and they would pull them up and in through the window. Lesh also made references to picking up the two after the escape and buying them clothes to wear.
On Nov. 13, 2012, Atterberry told Lesh in a recorded telephone conversation that they “worked on it late last night, couldn’t get it done” and in a later call that day said they hoped to get it done “by tonight.” The next day, authorities received the tip about the escape plans.
According to Morgan County Sheriff Jim Petty, the incident was not made public at the time due to the investigation by the U.S. Marshal's Office.
Lesh was charged in federal court because Atterberry was a prisoner of the U.S. Marshal's Office. Morgan County contracts with various federal agencies to hold prisoners pending resolution of their cases.
A couple of months prior to the attempted escape, Pyykola had been found guilty by a Morgan County jury after a change of venue in a triple homicide case that occurred in Laclede County. He was still in the Morgan County Jail awaiting sentencing.
Page 2 of 2 - The sheriff said the inmates took advantage of some small holes at the cell's window that had been punched in over the years by inmates using pencils. Several windows have holes you can stick a thumb in, according to Petty.
The inmates were able to put a string through the hole to the outside to fish in the hacksaw blades as well as cigarettes and a small flashlight.
Petty doubted whether the men could have successfully escaped through the narrow upper story windows, but said the county is planning to put in plates to prevent prisoners from being able to create the holes in the future.
Under federal statutes, Lesh is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Berry. It was investigated by the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the DEA.