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Murderer attempts escape from women’s prison in North Las Vegas

One of Nevada's most notorious killers tried to escape from a women's prison in North Las Vegas on Friday morning.

Brookey Lee West, who in 1998 killed her mother and stuffed her corpse in a garbage can in Las Vegas, disguised her clothing and appearance and tried to walk out of the Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center while inmates were on their way to breakfast, according to Nevada Department of Corrections spokesman Steve Suwe.

At 6:30 a.m., staff recognized West standing at a security gate near the visiting room, just steps away from the main entrance to the facility.

"That's about as close to the front as you can get," Suwe said.

She was taken to a secure housing area, and the prison is restricting inmate activities while officials investigate how she was able to get so close to the entrance, Suwe said.

He did not have details on her disguise Friday.

West, now 59, was described as "true evil" by Clark County prosecutor Frank Coumou at her 2001 sentencing, which netted her a life sentence in prison with no chance for parole.

Coumou described her crime as "the most heinous, the most bizarre and most out-of-the-ordinary case" he had ever prosecuted, and the case garnered national attention.

Prosecutors said West killed her 68-year-old mother, Christine Smith, to collect the woman's $1,000-a-month Social Security checks.

Smith's liquefied remains were found three years after her death in a sealed garbage can, which was discovered after it sprang a leak in a Las Vegas storage shed.

Medical examiners never determined how Smith died, but prosecutors said the tightly wrapped bag around the woman's face indicated she was suffocated.

West denied killing her mother, and her lawyers said Smith died of natural causes.

She has continued to capture headlines since her imprisonment, for a time selling her artwork and fingernail clippings online.

After the investigation into West's escape attempt, prison officials could recommend additional criminal charges to the attorney general's office. That might seem like a moot point, considering West's sentence, but Suwe said that it's sometimes possible for inmates sentenced to life without parole to have that reversed.

He cited the case of Jack Rainsberger, who killed a Las Vegas secretary and was sentenced to die in 1958. That sentence was overturned in 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out existing death penalty laws, and Rainsberger was given life without parole.

The state Pardons Board later amended the sentence to give him the possibility of parole. When Rainsberger was released in 2001, at age 65, he might have been the longest-serving inmate in Nevada prison history.

No matter the criminal charge she faces, she will at least face administrative discipline, Suwe said. That consists of "disciplinary segregation," he said - solitary confinement.

"That's going to happen," Suwe said. "That's a given."

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

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