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Helicopters, hounds search for convicted killer

James Ladd is seen in an undated photo provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. North Carolina authorities continue to search for Ladd, a 51-year-old man serving life sentences for murder and robbery who escaped Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012 w
James Ladd is seen in an undated photo provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. North Carolina authorities continue to search for Ladd, a 51-year-old man serving life sentences for murder and robbery who escaped Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012 while working on a prison farm at Tillery Prison. Tillery is a minimum security prison.
N.C. Department of Public Safety, Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina authorities used a helicopter and bloodhounds Monday to search for a convicted killer who walked away from a state prison farm nearly two hours before staffers reported he was gone.

James J. Ladd was first noticed missing Sunday morning, after the tractor he had been operating was found abandoned in a field outside the minimum security Tillery Correctional Center.

Ladd, 51, was serving three life sentences for the 1980 shooting deaths of two men in Yadkin County.

He had been a reasonably well-behaved inmate, according to records, with no infractions listed for violent behavior while in prison. Still, officials warned anyone who comes in contact with Ladd to steer clear and call 911.

Convicted of double first-degree murder and robbery, Ladd became eligible for parole after serving 30 years but was denied release in January 2011, according to records. His next parole review is scheduled for 2014.

Pamela Walker, a spokeswoman from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, said all inmates other than those sentenced to death or life without parole have the opportunity to work their way into minimum custody and prepare for their eventual release. There are currently 382 inmates with life sentences housed in minimum security.

Many of those inmates are assigned to Tillery, where inmates work in prison farming operations in preparation for re-entering society.

"Inmate farm workers are supervised, but not continuously monitored," Walker said Monday. "Depending on their job assignment, some inmates have direct supervision and some have graduated to a level where they are checked on periodically."

Records show Ladd is the seventh North Carolina inmate to escape in 2012. All the others have been recaptured. The last two inmates who escaped Tillery, in December 2007, were apprehended two days later in South Carolina.

The last convicted murderer to escape, 47-year-old Martin Pedron, also absconded from Tillery. Pedron is still at large, according to records.

The prison is located in a rural area more than an hour's drive east of Raleigh. More than 60 Prison Emergency Response Team members and correctional officers have been assigned to the search, along with several State Wildlife officers and Alcohol Law Enforcement agents.

Ladd is white with blue eyes, graying hair and a beard, though authorities said he may have shaved since his escape. He stands 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs about 140 pounds. He was last seen wearing green pants and a white t-shirt, but may also have a pair of black pants.

Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck