The Norman Transcript

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February 3, 2013

Mistakenly freed killer captured while watching TV

CHICAGO — Two days after a stunning series of errors allowed a convicted murderer to walk out of a Chicago jail where he did not need to be in the first place, police recaptured the man at a northern Illinois home where he was found watching TV.

Steven L. Robbins, 44, put up no resistance Friday night as police burst through the door of a townhome in Kankakee, about 60 miles south of Chicago, said Cook County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Frank Bilecki.

“He was in the living room or kitchen area watching TV, taken by total surprise,” Bilecki said, adding that it appears the homeowner might know an acquaintance of Robbins.

The mistaken release of the prisoner, who was serving a 60-year sentence in Indiana for murder, focused attention on an antiquated corner of the criminal justice system that still relies extensively on paper documents instead of computers in moving detainees around and keeping tabs on their court status.

The episode prompted promises of change, but also some finger-pointing about who was ultimately to blame for a mistake with precedent in the Cook County system.

“We’re not ducking the fact we dropped the ball. We made mistakes,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Friday. “The public deserves much more. We’re going to find out what went wrong here.”

In Robbins’ case, his transfer to Illinois to begin with was the result of a mistake, officials said.

He was brought before a Cook County Circuit Court judge on Tuesday and Wednesday over drug and armed violence charges in a case that it turns out had been dismissed in 2007. But because law enforcement authorities were still seeing an active arrest warrant, his transfer was requested and approved, according to Dart’s office.

In a second lapse that Dart took responsibility for, he acknowledged that paperwork was lost that would have made it clear to Illinois officials that Robbins was to be returned to Indiana custody. As a result, he was allowed to walk out of the Cook County Jail’s main gate on Wednesday evening. It took another 24 hours before the public was alerted that he was on the loose.

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