Another prisoner released in error

Mistake by clerk frees man, 26

warrant issued

August 14, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

A Baltimore Circuit judge issued a warrant yesterday for the arrest of a prisoner freed in error - the third time in recent months that a prisoner has been let go because of mistakes in a decades-old system of handling release and detention instructions with handwritten notes.

Circuit Judge John C. Themelis said yesterday that a courtroom clerk had erred in completing a release form for Thomas Lee, 26, of the 400 block of Edgewood St. in West Baltimore. Themelis said the error occurred Tuesday, the day he reduced Lee's sentence as a reward for completing his GED.

At the time of Lee's release, he had almost 18 months left to serve for assaulting a sheriff's deputy, according to court records.

Last month, Mayor Sheila Dixon called on judges and prison officials to upgrade their computer systems so that paper release orders could be checked for accuracy or created electronically. State prison officials now receive release orders well before a courtroom clerk updates the corresponding information in computer records.

Dixon suggested changes after reading a Sun article describing the numerous paperwork errors that led to Calvin Boswell's improper release from the city jail the day after he was convicted of attempted murder. Boswell was arrested last month in Baltimore County.

"This happens periodically," Themelis said. "In my 24 years, it's happened two or three times in cases I was involved with. ... Human error is always a factor."

Themelis said that courtroom clerks are "efficient, hard-working and overworked." He said he may have handled 25 to 40 cases that day.

Lee's case was complicated.

In January, Themelis sentenced Lee to three years in prison for assaulting the sheriff's deputy, but he tacked the time on the end of a two-year sentence for violating probation.

Themelis also promised to cut the three-year sentence in half if Lee completed his GED. Lee got the diploma, and Themelis kept his word.

This month, the judge reduced the three years to 18 months. Themelis also gave Lee three years of probation upon release and told him that if he violated probation, he would have to serve another 18 months.

Lee completed his original sentence for violating probation July 30, said prison system spokesman Mark A. Vernarelli.

Yesterday, Themelis suggested to Assistant State's Attorney Steven T. Mitchell that he could file escape charges against Lee.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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