Wednesday, December 08, 1999

Judge ducks blame for fatal furlough

Says deputies shouldn't have freed prisoner

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Calling the release a “serious mistake,” the judge who granted William Chapman's fatal holiday furlough said Tuesday he did not know the Lebanon man was supposed to be held on a parole violation.

        Dallas Powers, administrative judge of Warren County Court, pointed the finger of blame at the sheriff's office, saying deputies should have refused to turn Mr. Chapman loose.

        Judge Powers returned this week from a Florida vacation to face a sea of controversy brewing since the furlough resulted in the slaying of Mr. Chapman's ex-girlfriend, Suzie Thompson.

        Sheriff Tom Ariss has said his staff knew Mr. Chapman had a “holder” from the Ohio Adult Parole Authority, but chose to release him rather than violate Judge Powers' court order for a furlough.

        “He's not going against the judge's order,” Judge Powers said at a press conference. “The holder has to be satisfied before he can be released. A holder is superior to anything else.”

        The judge barred the family of Ms. Thompson from attending a press conference Tuesday, and they spurned his offer of a pri vate meeting afterward.

        Almost a week after he failed to return from furlough and days after he made deadly threats, Mr. Chapman shot Ms. Thompson to death in the bedroom of her South Lebanon home. Moments later, he used the gun to kill himself.

        Sheriff Ariss declined to comment on Judge Powers' remarks, but added insight Tuesday to deputies' decision to honor the judge's order for release.

        He said deputies knew the parole holder was based on three telephone harassment charges Ms. Thompson filed against Mr. Chapman on Oct. 18. With that in mind, and becausethe judge had decided to let him go, deputies chose not to question the release, Sheriff Ariss said.

        Judge Powers, however, said he had no idea state parole officials had ordered Mr. Chapman held because the records he reviewed before granting the furlough did not indicate that.

        He did know, however, that Mr. Chapman was on parole but still considered him eligible for furlough because he was not accused of a violent crime. Nor was he considered a risk to flee prosecution, the judge said.

        “He had been released as safe to return to society. He had been released from prison. He had done his time and was ready to be released on the street,” Judge Powers said, adding that the county court has no written guidelines to determine who is eligible for furlough.

        County officials are reviewing the furlough process, but Judge Powers was not ready to say Tuesday that he would terminate holiday releases altogether.

        “There are some holes in the system, and we plan to fix it,” he said. “It won't happen again.”

        Some judges in Warren County had granted routine mass holiday releases of inmates for decades in a practice meant to ease jail crowding at Thanksgiving and Christmas, county officials said.

        But judges in county court and Franklin Municipal Court have continued to grant holiday furloughs even though the crowding problem was solved with an addition to the jail three years ago. Warren County is the only county in the Tristate to offer mass holiday releases.

        Mr. Chapman was among 49 inmates that Judge Powers reviewed for last week's release. Of the 14 inmates freed the evening before Thanksgiving, half were under the jurisdiction of the two county judges. Mr. Chapman was the only inmate who failed to return.

        Ms. Thompson's relatives, who had asked to attend Judge Powers' press conference, said they are considering a lawsuit against county officials, who have not explained to them what happened.

        On Tuesday, Judge Powers offered to meet with the family, but Ms. Thompson's father, Yvon Desfosses, refused unless reporters could be present. The judge wouldn't allow it.

        Mr. Desfosses said he is tired of the finger-pointing by county officials who do not want to admit responsibility in his daughter's death.

        “Instead of throwing the ball to each other, why don't they come out and say, "This is what happened, this is who is responsible and this is what we are going to do'?” Mr. Desfosses demanded.

        Family members have said Mr. Chapman continued to threaten Ms. Thompson, 42, within days of her death. When she asked for help, some sheriff's deputies were not aware he was out on furlough.

        Sheriff's records indicate that deputies attempted to locate Mr. Chapman and suggested to Ms. Thompson that she leave her residence if she was afraid. Instead, she stayed.

        A brother, Jean-Jacques Desfosses, questioned why it took a homicide for changes to be considered in a system that obviously broke down.

        “We don't deserve this,” he said outside Judge Powers' courtroom Tuesday. “It's a sad deal.”


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