Inmate convicted in three shootings is mistakenly released

February 26, 2010|By Justin Fenton and Timothy B. Wheeler | Baltimore Sun reporters

A 26-year-old man who was serving three consecutive life sentences for shooting his ex-girlfriend and her two daughters in 2004 was erroneously released from a downtown Baltimore prison Thursday, setting off a regional manhunt as officials scrambled to explain how he got out.

Raymond Thomas Taylor, who was sentenced in 2005 to three life terms on three charges of attempted first-degree murder, escaped from the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center about 2 p.m. when he posed as another inmate who was supposed to be released at that time, officials said.

Corrections and law enforcement officers were searching Thursday night for Taylor, whose last address before going to prison was in New York City.

Baltimore police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III called him a "dangerous criminal" at a hastily arranged news conference Thursday night at the adjustment center.

Authorities had said in a prepared statement earlier that they had "reached out" to victims in Taylor's case and dispatched one or more officers to the home of one victim. But they declined at the news conference to discuss any details of their search or arrangements for protection of anyone associated with Taylor's case.

J. Michael Stouffer, state commissioner of corrections, said Taylor, who until Thursday had been at the maximum-security prison in Cumberland, successfully passed through three identification checks at the adjustment center before being released.

He said authorities are investigating how that happened and how it might be prevented in the future.

Stouffer said Taylor was brought to Baltimore late Thursday morning for a court appearance unrelated to his conviction. Spokesmen for the department said they did not know details about Taylor's court appearance.

When Taylor arrived at the adjustment center, he was placed in a cell with another inmate who was scheduled to be released that day, Stouffer said. That inmate, William Johnson, had been brought from prison in Hagerstown and had already been processed by a case management officer for his impending release.

Stouffer said Taylor should not have been placed in the cell with Johnson, as it is corrections procedure that inmates about to be released be kept by themselves or only with other inmates due to be let go.

When a correctional officer arrived about 2 p.m. to release Johnson, Taylor answered to his cellmate's name and presented Johnson's identification card, Stouffer said.

The guard examined the card, which bears the inmate's photograph, and asked Taylor to recite the identification number on the card. Taylor gave the correct number, Stouffer said.

Taylor was then taken to a holding area, where a second officer examined his identification card. And before Taylor was released, a supervisor also checked his appearance against the card photo and was satisfied that he was Johnson. Stouffer said he has looked at the two men's ID card pictures and "they do resemble one another."

Taylor's escape wasn't noticed until about 3:45 p.m., when an officer making rounds found Johnson kicking at his cell door. Corrections officials then notified police.

Investigators were questioning Johnson, who had not been released as of Thursday night, and officials offered no explanation for how Taylor got his identification card.

Stouffer said that as far as he knew, the two had no prior association. He also said officials have no reason to believe corrections officers colluded in Taylor's escape.

"We're going to do everything and spare no effort to bring this man back into custody where he belongs," Bealefeld said.

Authorities indicated they were anxious to recapture Taylor because of the nature of the crimes he had committed.

According to prosecutors, Taylor, enraged that his girlfriend had broken up with him, lined her and her two daughters up against the headboard of a bed in their Northeast Baltimore home and shot them in the body and head.

Tammie Johnson, then 36, and her daughters, Cierra Johnson, then 16, and Shatera Brooks, then 14, were struck several times with bullets from a .22-caliber handgun.

They all survived, and Taylor was arrested days later in New York. He was arrested in August 2004.

"He was convicted of a chilling, execution-style attempted murder. Only by the grace of God, these victims survived," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office. "They suffered lasting, long-term injuries."

The mother testified at trial, Burns said. A few days into the proceedings, Taylor asked to plead guilty, with no promise of a particular sentence. Circuit Judge Joseph P. McCurdy Jr. sentenced him to three life terms, Burns said

The adjustment center, formerly known as Supermax, holds 540 inmates. About 215 of them are federal prisoners, but the rest are state inmates housed there temporarily for court or medical appearances - or to be released.

The North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, where Taylor had been housed before his trip to Baltimore Thursday, is the state's new "Supermax."

Rick Binetti, communications director for the corrections department, said that although an inmate had escaped from the Maryland Correctional Institute in Hagerstown last year by scaling a fence, this was the first time in recent memory that an inmate had been released erroneously while serving a sentence.

Authorities released Taylor's photograph and appealed for anyone with information about Taylor's whereabouts to call 911 promptly. He was described as 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds.

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