Sheriff Tom Dart blamed an antiquated system of handwritten forms for a lapse that lett a convicted murder walk out of custody. Phil Rogers reports.
Police in two states and FBI agents on Friday continued their search for a convicted murderer released by mistake earlier this week by Cook County authorities.
Steven L. Robbins, 44, who is serving a 60-year sentence for murder in Indiana, was mistakenly released Wednesday by sheriff's officers following an appearance in Cook County Circuit Court.
"I'm not ducking it. I mean, we let people down," Sheriff Tom Dart said in his first public comments about the lapse.
Robbins is serving a 60-year sentence in Indiana for the 2002 shooting death of Rutland Melton and for carrying a handgun without a license. For that crime, his earliest projected release date was June 29, 2029, Indiana authorities said.
Robbins' problems with the law in Illinois date back to 1992, when he was arrested on an armed violence charge, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez explained Friday. At that time, Robbins failed to make a court appearance and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Those charges were dismissed in 2007 following his murder conviction in Indiana. Alvarez said the warrant should have subsequently been lifted.
"I don't know in 2007 if the warrant was quashed and recalled. It should have been. It very well may have been, because it's standard procedure for a judge to make a motion to quash and recall a warrant when in fact we're dismissing the case," Alvarez said.
Dart said the warrant wasn't quashed, and with it still in their records, a request was made to extradite Robbins to Illinois. A document reviewed by NBC Chicago showed that extradition request was approved by an official in Alvarez's office on Sept. 15, 2012.
"He had an active warrant in the system. It had never been quashed. It was for armed violence. So it wasn't for a parking ticket that we went got him. An armed violence is a Class X offense so we went and got him because of a warrant for his arrest," Dart explained.
Alvarez, however, told reporters that an assistant state's attorney notified Dart's office "several days prior to [Robbins] being brought here" that the inmate wasn't needed because there were no pending charges.
In any event, Indiana authorities released Robbins on Tuesday and he appeared in court on Wednesday. When Robbins left Indiana, he was accompanied by an official document which read, in part: "do not release this offender from court before contacting the Indiana State Prison Release Coordinator."
For reasons still unknown late Friday, Illinois authorities released Robbins at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday instead of returning him to the custody of Indiana officials. Dart said he was notified of the error at about 3 p.m. Thursday.
The sheriff blamed an antiquated system of handwritten carbon paper forms, arguing they simply didn't stay with the inmate through every step at the jail.
Robbins remained at large Friday, and a warrant was issued for his arrest in both Indiana and Illinois, officials said. The FBI and Marshals Service offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Robbins' arrest.
He is described as a black man who stands 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs about 190 pounds. He has a tattoo on the right side of his neck that says "Nicole," officials said.
Anyone with information regarding his whereabouts should dial 911 or call Crime Stoppers at 317-252-8477. The sheriff's office also provided a hotline for information: 847-635-1188.
Robbin's release is not the first time a prisoner has been mistakenly freed from the Cook County Jail.
In 2009, Jonathan Cooper, who was serving a 30-year manslaughter sentence in Mississippi, was brought to Chicago to face charges that he failed to register as a sex offender.
Prosecutors dropped the charges because, as an inmate, he could not comply with the Sex Offender Registration Act.
A clerk reportedly failed to include the Mississippi sentence information in Cooper's file, and jail staff released him.
Cooper turned himself in several days later.
In a more recent embarrassment for law enforcement officials in Chicago, two convicted bank robbers escaped from a high-rise federal lockup in December by climbing down the side of the building on a rope made of bed sheets and jumping into a cab. Authorities recaptured both men, one of whom remained on the run for about two weeks. Officials have yet to provide a public explanation of the jailbreak and what security lapses allowed it to happen.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this post incorrectly reported that Robbins appeared in court and was mistakenly released on Tuesday. He was released Wednesday.