SEATTLE (AP) – An inmate mistakenly released from a Washington state prison three months early has been charged with shooting and killing a teenager when he should have been locked up, officials said Thursday.
Jeremiah Smith, 26, was wrongly released on May 14, making him one of thousands of offenders freed early since 2002 because of a software coding error that miscalculated sentences. Less than two weeks later, he gunned down Ceasar Medina, 17, outside a tattoo parlor in Spokane, authorities said.
Smith, who had been convicted of robbery, burglary and assault, shouldn’t have been released until Aug. 10, authorities say. He is in jail and charged with first-degree murder and robbery in the May 26 killing.
It’s the second death tied to the early release of prisoners, and there are likely to be more crimes that have been committed by inmates freed too soon, Department of Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke said.
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“I’m very concerned about what we’ll uncover as we move forward,” Pacholke said in a conference call with reporters. “It concerns me deeply about just the tragedy that is being produced based on early release.”
Another prisoner mistakenly released early has been charged with vehicular homicide in the death of his girlfriend in a car crash that happened when he should have been behind bars, state officials revealed Monday.
I’m very concerned about what we’ll uncover as we move forward.
Department of Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke
Pacholke said he and Gov. Jay Inslee have apologized and offered condolences to Medina’s family and the relatives of the woman killed.
Officials announced last week that as many as 3,200 prisoners have been mistakenly released since 2002 because of problems calculating sentences. So far, more than two dozen offenders who need to serve additional time are back in custody, and the Department of Corrections is reviewing additional releases.
“I’m very confident that we'll get to the bottom of it,” Pacholke said.
One of those prisoners sent back from Benton County was Floyd Young Jr., 36, who served more than eight years of an 11-year sentence for first-degree assault and first-degree robbery following a 2005 home invasion in Kennewick. Young’s sister and wife told the Herald they were surprised and unhappy when he was picked up and returned to prison without any notice at all.
Three Yakima County men mistakenly released from state prison also are back in custody.
The attorney general’s office advised the Department of Corrections in 2012 that it wasn’t necessary to manually recalculate prisoners’ sentences after the software error was brought to light, according to documents released by the department late Wednesday.
The assistant attorney general assigned to the agency wrote in December 2012 that from a “risk management perspective,” a recalculation by hand of hundreds of sentences was “not so urgent” because a software reprogramming fix would eventually take care of the issue, according to the emails released in response to a public records request by The Associated Press.
Corrections officials acknowledged this week that the software fix was delayed 16 times and ultimately never done. A fix is expected early next month, and corrections officials say they are doing manual recalculations for prisoners whose sentences may have been affected.
The agency was alerted to the error in December 2012, when a victim’s family learned of a prisoner’s imminent release. The family did its own calculations and found that the prisoner was being credited with too much time for good behavior.
The mistake followed a 2002 state Supreme Court ruling requiring the Department of Corrections to apply good-behavior credits earned in county jail to state prison sentences. But the programming fix ended up giving prisoners with sentencing enhancements too much “good time credit.”
Sentencing enhancements include additional prison time given for certain crimes, such those using firearms. Under state law, prisoners who get extra time for sentencing enhancements cannot have it reduced for good behavior.