Official suspended for release of suspect Prison case manager freed drug offender due for trial

November 14, 1997|By Ivan Penn and Peter Hermann ppTC | Ivan Penn and Peter Hermann ppTC,SUN STAFF

A senior case manager at the Maryland Penitentiary, who last month was reprimanded for erroneously releasing a convicted robber, was given a five-day suspension yesterday for allowing a murder suspect to go free.

Correctional officials said yesterday that they are investigating how Larry George Owens, 24, of the 4100 block of Pimlico Road in Northwest Baltimore was mistakenly released Sept. 30, when he was to go on trial today on a murder charge.

Officials said that their preliminary investigation showed that the problem stemmed from the case manager's failure to fully check Owens' records.

"We're simply saying that one person made a serious mistake regarding the checking of computer or paper files," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

"Secretary [Stuart O.] Simms was out at the scene," Sipes said. "He's ordered an immediate review. He wants answers, and he wants them now."

The mistake is the third such incident since Sept. 30 -- all of which occurred before Simms, who was sworn into his post Wednesday, became public safety secretary. Authorities did not realize that Owens had been erroneously released until Tuesday.

The senior case manager, who was suspended for Owens' release, was one of two correctional employees at the penitentiary who were disciplined last month for erroneously freeing another inmate. The senior case manager was given a letter of reprimand, and the other employee was suspended five days in that incident.

State officials refused to identify either employee.

Public safety officials said the workers had no criminal motive for freeing Rickey F. Alston Sr., 29, who was sentenced for drug and robbery convictions. He was mistakenly released Oct. 11 but turned himself in Oct. 24 after seeing reports about his disappearance on the news.

In another case, Bradrick Thomas Greene, 23, was erroneously released Oct. 7 from the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center when he was to be held to continue a burglary sentence in Baltimore County. Greene turned himself in Oct. 8.

Owens, 24, known as "High Top," was awaiting trial on charges that he fatally shot Keith Minor, 26, in a New Year's Eve drug dispute at a house at 4306 Pimlico Road. Police said the two were arguing, possibly over a drug debt. Minor was the 331st homicide victim of 1996, the year's last slaying.

Owens was arrested and charged with first-degree murder a short time later and ordered held without bail. His first case ended in a mistrial Aug. 21.

On Sept. 22, Owens was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison on a drug charge in an unrelated case. Four days later, he was transferred to the penitentiary. After receiving credit for time served, he was released by officials who could find no record of the murder charge.

Kirk Crawley, Owens' lawyer, said he learned about Owens' release Wednesday when his client called him. "He calls me and tells me, 'I'm out!' " said Crawley, who added that he asked Owens, "What are you doing out?" "They let me out." "They can't let you out." "I know, but they let me out."

Crawley said Owens told him that he would show up for his trial today, even though the prisoner realizes that he will be arrested and taken back to prison.

Sgt. Errol E. Etting of the homicide unit said police became aware of the mistaken release of Owens when the lead investigator on the case, Detective Margaret E. Kelly, got a call from a witness.

The witness, Etting said, told her, "'High Top is out.' [Kelly] said, 'No, High Top is in jail.' The person answered her back, 'No, High Top is sitting at Quantico and Pimlico.' "

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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