‘I wish I would’ve never went:’ Prison escapee speaks for first time since manhunt

‘I wish I would’ve never went:’ An Ohio prison escapee spoke for the first time since the manhunt. (WFIE)
Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 9:58 AM EDT
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HENDERSON, Ky. (WFIE/Gray News) - One of the Ohio prisoners who escaped in May says he wishes he “would’ve never went,” WFIE reports.

James Lee is currently being held at the Henderson County Detention Center and told WFIE that his choice to escape was due to alleged abuse he faced at the Allen-Oakwood Correction Facility.

“It was hard, you know what I mean?” Lee said. “To make the choice to go.”

Lee and Bradley Gillespie’s escape made national news and put multiple cities on lockdown. It led to a multi-day, nationwide manhunt.

“Now I wish I would’ve never went,” Lee said. “I wish I would’ve tried to do something different.”

Lee says the pair met during previous prison stints in Ohio. While at Allen-Oakwood Correctional Facility, Lee was in for burglary and breaking and entering, while Gillespie was in for a double murder.

“We worked in the kitchen together,” Lee said. “He made his choice and I made my choice.”

When asked if the escape was planned beyond the trash chute they escaped in, Lee says they never thought they’d get that far.

The two men got a significant head start and were not discovered to be missing for nearly 24 hours. Officials say both Lee and Gillespie were missing for over half a dozen head counts before the prison took notice.

While on the run, Lee says the pair stayed in the countryside for a bit then started to hit the highways.

Their ride to freedom, however, came to a screeching halt in Henderson, Kentucky, when police matched the stolen car plate number to the number given by federal law enforcement.

“Once we’d seen one car and we’d seen a couple more cars, we knew it was coming to an end,” Lee said. “We wasn’t supposed to go back you know, back to prison. It was either they kill us or we kill them.”

A brief car chase led to the pair crashing in Henderson, about 350 miles from where they were last seen. Moments before the crash, Lee said they knew their run and friendship had come to an end.

“He (Bradley) said, ‘You take care of yourself.’ And I said the same, said we’d probably never see each other again,” Lee said.

The pair took off following the crash, but Lee would eventually give up after leaping several fences.

“I was gonna turn on them, act like I had a gun so they’d shoot me, but I never did,” Lee said. “Things kick back in your mind, you think about your family, everyone would be hurt because of something that I did.”

Five days following the crash, authorities would find Gillespie’s body in the Ohio River.

“It hit me kind of hard when I learned that he’d passed away,” Lee said. “I feel for his family, his daughter. He did say he wished he could’ve been at his daughter’s wedding.”

Lee remembers Gillespie in a different light than what his charges portray.

“He had a big heart. He’d help you out if he could,” Lee said.

Lee says he’s glad he’s alive, glad he was caught, and all he wants to do is get back home.

“To move on,” Lee said. “Get back to Ohio and start serving my time in drop-down levels. Hopefully get into these programs and make something of myself.”

Lee says he’s apologetic toward his family for what he’s done to land him where he is now.

His next court appearance is set for Oct. 9.