A convicted murderer from Indiana is on the loose because of some bad paperwork in Cook County. (WGN - Chicago)
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart took responsibility today for mistakenly letting a man serving 60 years in Indiana for murder walk out of County Jail after a local charge against him was dismissed.
“We let people down, no mistake about it,” Dart said in an interview at sheriff’s offices in Maywood. “Our office did not operate the way it should have, clearly.”
Dart said Steven Robbins remains at large but that authorities are pursuing some promising leads about his whereabouts.
The FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and Cook County Crimestoppers have raised $12,000 as a reward for information leading to Robbins’ capture, he said.
Dart said his office is still looking at where and how the system broke down to allow Robbins’ mistaken release from the jail, but he said that officials at the jail had no paperwork showing he was serving time in an Indiana prison for murder.
Like other indigent people, Robbins was outfitted with clothing from Goodwill – a long-sleeve brown shirt and brown pants – before being released out the front entrance, Dart said. He also likely was given bus fare.
Dart said the sheriff’s office uses an archaic system – entirely paper-driven – in handling the movement of an average of about 1,500 inmates every day. Some are entering the jail after their arrest and others are being bused to courthouses around the county for court appearances.
The sheriff said the warrant for Robbins’ arrest should have been quashed by prosecutors when armed violence charges were dismissed against him in 2007. In addition, he said prosecutors signed off on the sheriff’s office traveling to Indiana to pick up Robbins at the prison in Michigan City and bring him back on the outstanding warrant.
“We were able to get an extradition warrant on a case that didn’t exist,” Dart said. “That’s the first problem.”
Earlier, documents reviewed by the Tribune showed that paperwork filled out by Cook County sheriff’s officers this week made it clear that Robbins was serving a 60-year sentence for murder in Indiana and was to be returned to authorities there after being brought to Chicago to dispose of an old case against him.
“Please be advised that this subject is in our custody under the temporary custody provision of the interstate agreement on detainers,” a sheriff’s order accompanying Robbins’ paperwork read. The order noted Robbins’ murder conviction and 60-year sentence and then stated he “must be returned to the custody of Indiana DOC.”
In addition, Judge Rickey Jones, assigned to the Leighton Criminal Court Building, ordered the Illinois case dismissed on Wednesday and wrote on paperwork that Robbins was to be released for “this case only,” the records show.
Yet Robbins was allowed to walk free out of the Cook County Jail Wednesday evening after his court appearance. Authorities today were reviewing the paperwork in Robbins’ file to see how the mistake was made and who was responsible, sources told the Tribune.
Also under investigation was why Robbins – whose 1992 charges of armed violence and drug possession had been dismissed by prosecutors nearly six years ago – was even brought to Chicago in the first place.
Robbins spent the night in the Cook County Jail on Tuesday to attend a court date Wednesday on a warrant issued when he skipped bail in his 1992 case, Frank Bilecki, a spokesman for the Cook County sheriff’s office, said on Thursday.
Cook County authorities picked up Robbins on Tuesday at a prison in Michigan City, Ind., explaining he needed to answer to pending charges in Chicago, said Doug Garrison, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Corrections. The requisite paperwork spelled out the terms of his release and return, Garrison said.
“It sounds almost too simple to say, but when someone comes and picks up a prisoner, they acknowledge they will bring him back,” Garrison said. “There are certain things they have to provide us, they do their business with him and then they give him back. Obviously in this case, for whatever reason, they didn’t give him back.”
One document in the Indiana prison paperwork was stamped “do not release this offender from court before contacting” Indiana authorities, Garrison said.
Garrison said Cook County authorities had contacted Indiana prison officials to review who had contact with Robbins in the prison and the identities of any visitors since his incarceration in 2004.
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