Man convicted of murder back in sheriff’s custody
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN AND STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporters February 1, 2013 9:32AM
A law enforcement photo of Steven Robbins being recaptured on Feb. 2, 2013.
Updated: March 3, 2013 6:09AM
A man convicted of murder who had been mistakenly released by Cook County officials was apprehended Friday in Kankakee, officials said.
Steven L. Robbins, 44, was taken into custody by Cook County Sheriff’s Police without incident at 10:55 p..m. in the 400 block of Frasier Avenue.
Robbins was being taken to facility Friday night in Maywood. The sheriff’s office said leads were recorded and investigated while at the same time “family, friends and acquaintances were interviewed at the Sheriff’s Police Headquarters.
Robbins had walked out of the Cook County Jail Wednesday even though he is serving a 60-year sentence for murder.
“With information that was obtained through these efforts, investiators were able to establish Robbins’ whereabouts and coordinate his capture,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
Sheriff Tom Dart participated in the arrest, officials said.
“It’s fantastic finding him,” said Dart spokesman Frank Bilecki, adding that no one was hurt.
He said authorities are “just happy to have him off the streets. “
Earlier, Dart had admitted Friday “we let people down” by mistakenly allowing a convicted murderer to walk out the front door of his jail.
But he vowed, “we’re going to fix this.”
Sheriff deputies likely even handed him a bus pass.
A paperwork bungle was probably to blame, Dart said as he tried to recover from the gaffe.
“We’ve found our office did not operate the way it should have,” Dart hadtold reporters.
Robbins, 44, was convicted of the 2002 murder of Rutland Melton in Indianapolis and shouldn’t have been released for decades.
But after he was brought to Illinois for an outstanding warrant on a case that was ultimately dismissed, jail employees gave him donated clothes — brown pants and a brown shirt — and let him go because they apparently never saw the paperwork that detailed his Indiana conviction, Dart said, citing preliminary information.
It appears documents from the Indiana Department of Correction and from the Cook County sheriff that specified Robbins should not be released didn’t travel with Robbins when he was taken from the south suburban Markham courthouse — where he was initially taken — to the 26th and California criminal courts building, where he appeared before a judge, Dart said.
“He’s brought in front of a judge who now finds there’s no case. The case had been dismissed, so the judge says ‘there’s no case here, this person should be released as to this case.’ Because no paperwork had gone to the jail about him coming from Indiana, all the people in the records room saw was a guy whose court case was dismissed, so he — like another 200 people everyday — was released out the front door of the jail,” Dart said.
He cautioned though, “I hate being definitive right now because it’s been less than 24 hours since we’ve been made aware that he’s gone, and we’ve spent most of the time looking for him. But our initial investigation appears to be a clerical error. In no way are we ducking responsibility. We let people down, and we’re going to fix this.”
Doug Garrison, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Correction, said Friday that the Cook County Sheriff’s Office personnel who picked up Robbins were given paperwork that specifically requested Robbins not be released.
Robbins was discovered missing from the jail as authorities were preparing to return him to Indiana on Thursday afternoon.
Cook County officials first acknowledged the mistake Thursday evening in a news release. Dart said he learned of the blunder Thursday at 3 p.m.
Dart said the archaic, paper-only system of tracking thousands of inmates likely led to the mistake. He also pointed to the original extradition of Robbins. He was brought back to Illinois on Tuesday and taken to the courthouse in Markham for 1992 charges of armed violence and possession of drugs, according to records provided by Dart’s office.
But though those charges had been dismissed in 2007, the warrant was never quashed, Dart said.
“An active warrant was in the system. We saw it. We went and got him and brought him back here,” Dart said.
Though he said his office is “trying to be responsible in making sure we don’t throw everybody under the bus,” Dart said, “clearly the initial part broke down where we were able to get an extradition warrant on a case that didn’t exist. That’s a problem.”
He said the extradition was approved by a Cook County assistant state’s attorney and by a judge. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said a prosecutor told sheriff’s police not to bring Robbins back several days before he was extradited.
In any case, it was Dart’s employees who let a convicted murderer walk out of the jail.
“Clearly the biggest breakdown is in us. Us, not anybody else,” Dart said. “Us not having paperwork follow a guy through the system.”
Documents show the Gary, Ind., native was locked up for the May 12, 2002, murder of Melton, 21, after a fight at a birthday party in Indianapolis. At some point during the party, Robbins and his then-wife got in an argument on the street outside the home holding the party, according to prosecutors. Melton witnessed the argument and told Robbins he shouldn’t hit a woman. At that point, Robbins walked over to his car, told witnesses, “I got something for all you (expletive),” and then shot Melton in the chest, prosecutors alleged.
Contributing: Lisa Donovan, Jordan Owen, Lauren FitzPatrick, Maudlyne Ihejirika