Jailers accidentally free murder defendant

  • Medill News Service
  • January 19, 2006 @ 5:45 PM
A 21-year-old man ordered held without bond for a first-degree murder charge two weeks ago Thursday walked into a Criminal courtroom without a sheriff's escort much to the surprise of everyone in the courtroom.

"According to my records, you were ordered held without bond back on Jan. 4," Judge Tom Hennelly said to Jonathan Smith after the man walked through the front doors of the courtroom. "What are you doing here not in custody?"

Smith did not answer and only looked at his public defender, who along with the assistant state's attorney, had no idea why Smith was released from the Cook County Jail two weeks ago.

On Jan.2 Smith, of the 500 block of Renaissance Boulevard in Oakbrook Terrace, was charged with the shooting murder of Cornell Shorter, 26, and two days later was ordered held without bail.

But due to a filing error by the jail's clerks, Smith walked out of the jail a few hours later, said Bill Cunningham a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff's office. Smith's whereabouts for the last two weeks are unknown, but he walked into Hennelly's first floor courtroom Thursday as if he were not an inmate. The judge who had been poring over legal documents looked up amazed to see that Smith was not being brought into court by guards through the lockup entrance.

"We're not exactly sure when it happened," Cunningham said. "All we know is that our records clerks in the jail did not properly file the [murder] charge or missed the extra charge."

According to Cunningham, Smith was originally arrested on Dec. 29 on drug possession charges in Skokie and was ordered held in lieu of $50,000 bond. The next day, Chicago police questioned Smith about the murder with which he was subsequently charged. Cunningham said one explanation might have been that

Smith's file was not immediately updated after his Jan. 4 bond hearing.

Smith's family came to the courthouse that day and posted his bail for the earlier drug possession charge. He was released because there was no mention of the murder charge in his record, only a bond posting for the drug charge, said Cunningham.

"He was released because his records had not been updated with the murder charge," Cunningham said. "It was simply a clerical error that resulted in him being released on bond."

Hennelly ordered Smith to be taken into custody and held without bail as previously ordered. He is scheduled to appear in court again on Feb. 7. Cunningham said an investigation into the mistaken release is underway.