Wrongly freed inmate recaptured

Prisons chief lays release to 'series of errors'

February 27, 2010|By Justin Fenton, Peter Hermann and Annie Linskey

Maryland's prisons chief said Friday that the accidental release of a violent inmate was the result of a "series of errors" in his agency, and that officials are considering the purchase of fingerprint detection technology to prevent a repeat.

Meanwhile, questions continued to swirl about how a man serving three life sentences could persuade a temporary cellmate hours from freedom to switch identification cards - and how the ruse could fool corrections officers.

Raymond Thomas Taylor, 26, was set free from a downtown Baltimore prison Thursday, and was captured Friday morning at a friend's house in Inwood, W.Va. He was awaiting extradition to Maryland, where since 2004 he has been serving time for shooting his ex-girlfriend and her two teenage daughters. Prosecutors said the women, who survived, were lined up against a headboard and shot in the head and chest.

Taylor, who also has criminal convictions in New York and Virginia, had been transported from a Cumberland prison to the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center for a civil court hearing scheduled March 1 in Somerset County.

In that case, Taylor is claiming he has not been paid for artwork he completed while in prison and delivered to be sold at a flea market.

Inmates being transferred across long distances routinely stop at a Baltimore prison before continuing their trip, corrections officials said.

A department spokesman said the Baltimore facility serves as a "central hub" through which about 60 inmates pass each day on their way to courtrooms across the state.

Officials could not say how Taylor was able to secure the identification card of the other inmate in the Baltimore cell and use it to be set free, although they charged the man who gave up his card with conspiracy to escape.

William Johnson, 22, who was released Thursday even after officials determined they had let the wrong person go, was rearrested and faces 10 additional years if convicted.

The incident is the subject of an internal investigation, and authorities "do not believe that our office in any way aided or abetted in the escape of this offender," said Felicia Hinton, an assistant commissioner with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

But Hinton acknowledged that "proper procedures related to inmate release were not followed."

Inmates serving a sentence, for example, are not allowed to share a cell with inmates about to be released.

Just why Johnson would agree to switch ID cards with Taylor remains a mystery.

Hinton said the two "had no prior contact" while incarcerated before being placed in the same cell for a few hours in Baltimore. Police have not found any link between the two outside prison walls, she said.

Still, authorities wrote in charging documents filed against Johnson that "he assisted Taylor with his escape by allowing Taylor to assume his identity." Hinton said the two inmates bore a close resemblance - roughly the same height, build and complexion. Each sported a goatee. Taylor had longer hair, but had it covered under a cap, officials said.

The incident prompted lawmakers in Annapolis to grill the state's top prison official, Gary D. Maynard, who had been scheduled to appear at a budget hearing. Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., the chair of a panel that oversees public safety spending, said the case revealed several instances "where people didn't follow proper procedure."

"I certainly hope none of your staff was connected at all," DeGrange, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, told Maynard.

Maynard told lawmakers that the "first mission" of the Division of Correction is to protect the public. "We failed," he said. "It was a series of errors." Maynard said he was "90 percent certain" that none of his officers were accomplices in the escape.

One option for fixes, Maynard said, could be to install fingerprint scanning devices at release facilities and require a match before allowing a prisoner to leave.

Each machine would cost up to $20,000, he estimated, saying he would likely put them at locations such as Baltimore where there is a high volume of releases.

Using Johnson's ID, Taylor passed through three security checks designed to ensure the correct inmate is being released, Hinton said. Officials said Taylor correctly recited the identification number printed on Johnson's card. No further checks are made on inmates at that stage of the release process, said corrections department spokesman Rick Binetti.

Johnson remained in his cell for 90 minutes before authorities came to get him and realized the two men had switched places.

The lengthy drive from Cumberland to Somerset County requires a stopover, Binetti said. Having the hub in Baltimore also makes sense, he said, because the city is where more than half of the state's inmates are sentenced, so the city is where most come for a court hearing.

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