Accidentally released murderer back in custody of Indiana police - FOX 32 News Chicago

Accidentally released murder convict back in custody of Indiana authorities

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A law enforcement photo of Steven Robbins being recaptured on Feb. 2, 2013. A law enforcement photo of Steven Robbins being recaptured on Feb. 2, 2013.
Steven L. Robbins Steven L. Robbins
CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

A convicted murderer who was mistakenly released from custody by Cook County officials was returned to Indiana authorities following a brief court appearance Saturday, officials said.

Prosecutors asked Judge Edward Harmening to drop charges issued against Steven L. Robbins after he was accidentally released from jail earlier this week.

Robbins, 44, was taken into custody without incident by Cook County Sheriff's Police Friday night at 10:55 p.m. in Kankakee, following an extensive manhunt.

"Is this the case I read about in the papers?" Harmening asked while Robbins, dressed in a black North Face coat looked on.

The escape charge against Robbins was dropped after assistant public defender Todd Chatman told the judge that Robbins had "no intention to flee."

After the brief hearing, Chatman told reporters that Robbins wasn't at fault for walking away.

"He was released by the state, by Cook County. They said, ‘Bye,'" Chatman said.

"...What are you gonna do? You've been in prison for 11 years. Are you just going to say wait a minute, ‘Let me back in?' He thought he was being shuffled to a van to Indiana and next thing he knew as he was getting through the process of getting into the van...[then] it's out the door."

Harmening later was heard joking about the matter, saying that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart should make sure there's a hold on another inmate--not in Cook but Kane County.

At the time of his arrest, Robbins was watching television in a woman's home in the 400 block of Frasier Avenue, authorities said. An hour before, Robbins was spotted grocery shopping with a wig on, Dart's spokesman Frank Bilecki said.

Robbins was brought to Illinois for an outstanding warrant on 1992 charges of armed violence and possession of drugs that were ultimately dismissed. The charges had been dismissed in 2007, but the warrant was never quashed, Dart said.

A paperwork bungle was probably to blame for his release.

"We've found our office did not operate the way it should have," Dart had told reporters. Dart said, "We let people down" by mistakenly allowing a convicted murderer to walk out the front door of his jail.

Jail employees gave him donated clothes — brown pants and a brown shirt — and let him go because they apparently never saw the paperwork that detailed his Indiana conviction, Dart said. Sheriff deputies likely even handed him a bus pass.

Robbins was convicted of the 2002 murder of Rutland Melton in Indianapolis and shouldn't have been released for decades.

Documents show the Gary, Ind., native was locked up for the May 12, 2002, murder of Melton, 21, after a fight at a birthday party in Indianapolis.

At some point during the party, Robbins and his then-wife got in an argument on the street outside the home holding the party, according to prosecutors. Melton witnessed the argument and told Robbins he shouldn't hit a woman. At that point, Robbins walked over to his car, told witnesses, "I got something for all you (expletive)," and then shot Melton in the chest, prosecutors alleged.

It appears documents from the Indiana Department of Correction and from the Cook County sheriff that specified Robbins should not be released didn't travel with Robbins when he was taken from the south suburban Markham courthouse — where he was initially taken — to the 26th and California criminal courts building, where he appeared before a judge, Dart said.

"He's brought in front of a judge who now finds there's no case. The case had been dismissed, so the judge says ‘there's no case here, this person should be released as to this case.' Because no paperwork had gone to the jail about him coming from Indiana, all the people in the records room saw was a guy whose court case was dismissed, so he — like another 200 people everyday — was released out the front door of the jail," Dart said.

Doug Garrison, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Correction, said Friday that the Cook County Sheriff's Office personnel who picked up Robbins were given paperwork that specifically requested Robbins not be released.

Robbins was discovered missing from the jail as authorities were preparing to return him to Indiana on Thursday afternoon.

Cook County officials first acknowledged the mistake Thursday evening in a news release. Dart said he learned of the blunder Thursday at 3 p.m.

Dart said the archaic, paper-only system of tracking thousands of inmates likely led to the mistake.

Though he said his office is "trying to be responsible in making sure we don't throw everybody under the bus," Dart said, "clearly the initial part broke down where we were able to get an extradition warrant on a case that didn't exists. That's a problem."

He said the extradition was approved by a Cook County assistant state's attorney and by a judge. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said a prosecutor told sheriff's police not to bring Robbins back several days before he was extradited.

In any case, it was Dart's employees who let a convicted murderer walk out of the jail.

"Clearly the biggest breakdown is in us. Us, not anybody else," Dart said. "Us not having paperwork follow a guy through the system."

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