Inmate's escape raises issue of responsibility

Dispute over when jail was told of murder charge

October 25, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun reporter

A Baltimore County inmate who walked away from an off-site work detail Monday would not have been allowed out of the jail if detention center officials had been told that he was charged with murder late last week, the county's head of corrections said yesterday.

Although 25-year-old Billy Conrad Martin was named in an arrest warrant issued Friday, no one from the detention center was told of the charge until Monday, said James P. O'Neill, administrator of the county Bureau of Corrections.

A court time stamp indicates that the warrant was issued at 2:14 p.m. Friday, O'Neill said.

"If we had that paperwork [Friday], he wouldn't have gone out to work," said O'Neill, who added that inmates charged with violent crimes are barred from work details outside the detention center.

A state police spokesman said a detective from that agency called the Baltimore County detention center Monday morning to notify officials there of the warrant. O'Neill said none of his employees recalls receiving such a call.

O'Neill said jail officials did not know about the indictment until early Monday evening, when two state police troopers arrived at the detention center in Towson to serve the warrant.

About the time of the troopers' arrival, Martin walked away from the county's landfill in the Cockeysville area, about 10 miles from the jail.

Martin was captured at a Middle River home Tuesday night. The Conowingo man was charged with escape and was being held without bail last night at the county detention center.

Martin had been in jail since August on a theft charge. The judge in the theft case sentenced Martin to "six months with work release recommended," according to court documents.

Inmates charged with nonviolent crimes who have exhibited good behavior in jail are generally allowed to serve on work details, said O'Neill. Until last week, Martin met both qualifications, O'Neill said.

A Cecil County grand jury indicted Martin last Thursday on a second-degree murder charge in the death in November of his infant son, Calob C. Martin. The father is accused of striking the boy on the head while the baby was crying.

O'Neill said no one from the Cecil County state's attorney's office or the state police contacted the jail about the indictment before the troopers arrived Monday evening.

The prosecutor handling the case said yesterday that he had not been aware tht Martin was being held at the detention center. The prosecutor's supervisor, Cecil County State's Attorney Christopher J. Eastridge, said his office did nothing wrong.

A state police spokesman said a detective was told Thursday that the warrant would be ready Monday morning.

Martin worked on a detail from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Saturday, O'Neill said. He worked among 25 inmates at the Texas landfill near York Road, sorting recycled items under the supervision of a correctional officer, O'Neill said.

On Monday, Martin was present for a head count at 6 p.m. But when the officer conducted another head count about 30 minutes later, Martin was gone, O'Neill said.

Authorities have not determined whether Martin knew about the indictment when he fled.

Jail officials contacted county police at 7:04 p.m., and officers began a search, a police spokesman said.

By Tuesday night, police from six area law enforcement agencies were searching an area from Baltimore to the Pennsylvania border, a state police spokesman said.

The public was alerted to Martin's escape shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday, when county police sent a release to media outlets.

O'Neill said the jail's policy is to alert community leaders in Towson to any escapes from the detention center but that there is no such policy for instances in which an inmate walks away from a detail.

A county police spokesman said investigators consider numerous factors in determining whether to alert the public to an inmate's escape. Those include the inmate's criminal history, the circumstances of the escape and whether the inmate is considered likely to be armed or have access to weapons.

Police had no reason to believe that Martin had access to weapons, Cpl. Michael Hill said.

Investigators decided to issue an alert late Tuesday afternoon asking for the public's help in finding Martin after a search during the day was unsuccessful, Hill said.

Martin probably won't be transferred to Cecil County until a court there schedules his arraignment, which could be in about two weeks, Eastridge said.

Sun reporter Jennifer Choi contributed to this article.

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