Footprints in snow led to convicted murderer who escaped from Dorchester prison

RCMP say footprints in the snow led them to convicted murderer Steven Bugden, shivering in a ravine near Sackville after his escape from Dorchester Penitentiary on Thursday.

Steven Bugden was arrested in woods outside Sackville on Thursday night

Steven Bugden, 45, escaped from the Dorchester Penitentiary on Wednesday evening and was caught Thursday night. (Submitted by RCMP)

RCMP say footprints in the snow led them to convicted murderer Steven Bugden, found Thursday shivering in a ravine near Sackville after his escape from Dorchester Penitentiary.

Steven Bugden, 45, who walked away from the minimum security section of the prison on Wednesday night, is back in custody, thanks in part to a tip from the public.

Police said Bugden was arrested at about 8:30 p.m. in woods near Highway 106 between Dorchester and Sackville, which are about 15 kilometres apart.

"We found some tracks, followed them and found him in a ravine," said Sgt. Paul Gagné of the RCMP's Sackville Detachment. 

"He appeared to be in some kind of distress so we brought him to hospital."

Gagné said RCMP received a tip several hours earlier from someone who had seen a "suspicious person that was out of place walking between Dorchester and Sackville."

He said the person who called police had no idea an escaped prisoner was on the loose.

According to the Correctional Service of Canada, staff discovered Bugden was not present for an inmate head count at about 10 p.m. on Wednesday. He'd last been accounted for at 4 p.m., when recreation started at the minimum-security sector of the prison.

RCMP Sgt. Paul Gagné said Bugden was out in the cold for hours, so he was examined in a hospital before being returned to Dorchester. (Kate Letterick/CBC News)

A snowstorm hit New Brunswick late Wednesday afternoon and night, and Gagné said Bugden was outdoors for hours.

"I think he was just cold and wet," he said.

Bugden pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after stabbing a university student in Ottawa in 1997. Parole Board of Canada records say the woman was a friend he had become infatuated with. 

In April 1999, Bugden started serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 15 years. 

On Thursday night, he was returned to the custody of the prison, which has multiple security levels, Gagné said.

Gagné said RCMP still don't know why Bugden decided to escape but said police are doing a criminal investigation and looking at a criminal charges of escaping lawful custody.

"Part of that investigation is finding out why this happened," he said.

"Now that our concentration is off the search, we can do a proper investigation and ask more questions."

Undergoing risk assessment 

Émile Belliveau, an assistant warden at the prison, said Bugden will undergo a risk assessment to make sure he's in the appropriate security level.

"Usually it's heightened when an inmate escaped from a security level," Belliveau said. "Usually it goes up one notch or two."

Belliveau wouldn't even confirm Bugden was at Dorchester, saying only that he is in federal custody.

"We're very happy that he was captured," he said.

Dorchester Penitentiary, about 30 kilometres southeast of Moncton, has several layers of security. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Typically, when inmates caught after escaping a minimum security prison, Belliveau said, are put into a medium or maximum security prison, while an evaluation is done.

The prison's minimum-security sector consists of housing units, which include a shared living area for four to six inmates. Bugden was placed there because he was considered a low risk to the public.

"The minimum-security sector … is the last sector that an inmate would be released from to the community," said Belliveau.

"There's a trust in them … the level is low for them to be violent toward the public." 

No parole 

Bugden was denied both day parole and unescorted temporary absences in 2009, according to the Parole Board of Canada.

The board's decision said police didn't support the request and parole officers believed Bugden "should cascade to a minimum-security institution" as a more gradual release plan while getting psychotherapy. The Correctional Service also opposed the request.

The decision noted Bugden expressed a willingness to receive therapy, but the risk to the community remained "unmanageable" at that time.