Captured killer Danelo Cavalcante sent to maximum-security prison where Bill Cosby did time

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(COLLEGEVILLE, Penn.) — Captured killer Danelo Cavalcante woke up Thursday in a maximum-security Pennsylvania state prison that has never had a successful escape and once housed comedian Bill Cosby.

The 34-year-old former fugitive, who was captured on Wednesday following a 14-day manhunt, was sent to the State Correctional Institution Phoenix to begin serving the life sentence for murdering his ex-girlfriend, punishment he tried to avoid by escaping from the county-run Chester County Prison, officials said.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has assumed custody of Danelo Cavalcante as of 3:00 PM on September 13, 2023, to serve his mandatory life sentence for first-degree murder,” corrections officials said in a statement.

The corrections department confirmed that Cavalcante, now known as inmate No. QP8931, is currently housed at SCI Phoenix in Collegeville, Montgomery County.

Cavalcante, who is also facing homicide charges in his native Brazil, “is in a specialized observation unit for classification and security reasons,” Maria Bivens, a Department of Corrections spokesperson, told ABC News Thursday.

“At this time he is single-celled and is provided out-of-cell treatment services,” Bivens said. “His meals are served in his cell, and he receives the same diet as all other inmates. Similar to other inmates, he will have to submit the appropriate paperwork to create an approved visitor/telephone list.”

The Phoenix prison, the newest prison in the state, opened in July 2018 to replace the aging State Correctional Institution Graterford.

Cavalcante escaped Aug. 31 from an exercise yard at Chester County Prison, where he was being held pending transfer to a state correctional institution. He was noticed missing that morning about an hour after he bolted when inmates returned from the exercise yard, officials said.

Cavalcante followed the same method of escape and route previously used by an inmate at the Chester County Prison, Howard Holland, acting warden of the prison, told reporters during a recent press briefing. Inmate Igor Vidra Bolte broke out of the prison in Pocopson Township on May 19 by scaling a wall in an exercise yard to gain access to the roof, according to a criminal complaint obtained by ABC News.

Cavalcante escaped from the prison by “crab walking” up a wall, pushing his way through razor wire installed after Bolte’s escape, running across the prison roof and scaling more razor wire before jumping down to a less secure area to make his getaway, Holland said.

Holland noted that “one key difference” between the two escapes was the actions of a tower guard whose primary responsibility was to monitor inmates in the exercise yard.

“In Bolte’s escape, the tower officer observed the subject leaving the yard area and contacted control immediately. That is why Bolte was apprehended within 5 minutes,” Holland said. “In the escape of Cavalcante, the tower officer did not observe nor report the escape. The escape was discovered as part of the inmate counts that occur when the inmates come in from the exercise yard.”

The tower guard, who was not identified, has since been fired.

The Phoenix prison is a 1-million-square-foot state-of-the-art maximum-security facility that cost $400 million to build, according to corrections officials.

In its 5-year history, the prison has had only one reported attempted escape.

On Dec. 7, 2022, inmate Eduardo Venegas Del Moro, who was serving a 5-to-10-year sentence for sexual assault and strangulation in Adams County, attempted to break out. Like Cavalcante, Venegas Del Moro, according to authorities, launched his escape attempt from a prison’s recreation yard.

“A review of facility cameras revealed that Venegas Del Muro gained access to a building roof, then jumped from the roof onto the concrete below,” the corrections officials said in a statement at the time.

Venegas Del Muro was injured in the fall and was quickly recaptured, officials said.

“There is no indication that Venegas Del Muro was in danger of completing the escape attempt, and his actions did not pose a threat to the public.

Unlike the understaffed Chester County Prison, the 3,830-bed Phoenix prison employs 1,200 full-time employees, officials said.

“We have a large population of people serving life sentences in Pennsylvania, larger than most states because of our excessive sentencing laws in Pennsylvania. So, there are a lot of people serving life sentences at Phoenix,” said Claire Shubik-Richards, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, the de facto monitor of prison and jail conditions throughout Pennsylvania, told ABC News.

Shubik-Richards added that the state prison system “does not have the staffing shortage that we’re seeing in the county system.”

The Phoenix prison is where comedian Bill Cosby served three years after being found guilty of allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004. The conviction was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in June 2021.

The Supreme Court ruled that Cosby’s prosecution should never have occurred due to a deal the comedian cut with former Montgomery County prosecutor Bruce Castor, who agreed not to criminally prosecute Cosby if he gave a deposition in a civil case brought against him by Constand.

Phoenix prison is also where former prison guard and convicted killer George Banks is serving a life sentence. Banks murdered 13 people, including seven children, five of them his own, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. At the time, the killings marked one of the largest mass murders in U.S. history.

The rapper Cool C, whose real name is Christopher Douglass Roney, is also serving a life sentence at the Phoenix prison. He was convicted in the murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Lauretha Vaird during a 1996 bank robbery attempt and was initially sentenced to death but was later granted a stay of execution.

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