By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Twelve convicted felons with a history of committing violent acts almost walked free Friday because of an oversight by the Kentucky Department of Corrections.
The men - including two from Northern Kentucky - were mistakenly included on a list of 328 inmates scheduled to go free at 8 a.m. Friday as Gov. Paul Patton continues to release prisoners as a way to cope with Kentucky's $500 million deficit.
"This so-called mistake makes it obvious that the decision to release prisoners was rushed, not well considered and an abuse of power by the governor," said Attorney General Ben Chandler, who spent Friday morning in Franklin County Circuit Court trying to stop the release of all 328 inmates. "This release is a danger to the public's safety."
When asked how the mistake happened, Lisa Carnahan, Department of Corrections spokeswoman, said: "It was a pure and simple mistake. They should have never been included on the list. They were not even eligible for release under the governor's own criteria."
She said the 12 inmates didn't qualify for the conditional commutation because they had been convicted of a crime classified as "violent" by her own agency. Mr. Patton has repeatedly said he will commute the sentences only of nonviolent offenders and specifically excluded sexual offenders and repeat drunken drivers.
Mr. Patton released 567 inmates in December and said more commutations could happen as the state struggles to balance its budget.
Here are the names, crimes and new release dates of the Kentucky inmates who Friday were denied early release by Gov. Paul Patton:|
Rodney Black, possession of a controlled substance - April 12.
Timothy Charlton, receiving stolen property; operating a motor vehicle with a revoked or suspended license; fleeing or evading police; wanton endangerment - June 12.
Antoine Cox, criminal facilitation of a robbery - June 19.
Harley Davidson Iles, fleeing or evading police; receiving stolen property; criminal mischief; wanton endangerment; bail jumping - May 26.
Joe Jackson, burglary; theft by unlawful taking; persistent felony offender; reckless homicide; persistent felony offender - June 21.
John Johnson, unlawful imprisonment - June 4.
Robert Meyer, trafficking in a controlled substance; persistent felony offender; possession of controlled substance; wanton endangerment; persistent felony offender - March 20.
Jeremy Starkey, criminal possession of a forged instrument - June 26.
William Thompson, burglary; theft by unlawful taking; assault under extreme emotional distress - April 25.
Frank Wade, persistent felony offender - July 9.
Bass Webb, theft by unlawful taking - May 2.
John Winkle, burglary; theft by unlawful taking; unlawful transaction with a minor; wanton endangerment; persistent felony offender - May 4.
Source: Kentucky Department of Corrections
"The whole thing looks like it was hastily done without much consideration to the prosecutors," said Campbell County Commonwealth's Attorney Jack Porter.
"If someone took a very hard look at those released, there would be more than just 12 who everyone would agree should have been held in prison longer."
Mr. Porter's office prosecuted Robert B. Meyer, 55, of Newport, who was almost mistakenly released from the Green River Correctional Complex. Mr. Meyer was convicted of a series of crimes, including wanton endangerment, after he was caught dealing drugs on York Street near an elementary school in 1997.
The 220-pound man fought with police during his arrest, according to court records. He tried to drive off as police hung on the car door. Police found methadone and several prescription drugs commonly sold on the black market, including OxyContin, on Mr. Meyer and in his car.
Officers also confiscated what was described as a "large pair of scissors" tucked in Mr. Meyer's waistband.
"Had state officials asked me - which they did not - I would have told them Mr. Meyer shouldn't be a candidate to be released early," Mr. Porter said.
Boone County Commonwealth's Attorney Linda Tally Smith was equally concerned about an inmate prosecuted from Boone County who was almost released.
In October 2001, Harley Davidson Iles, 20, of Covington nearly ran over a Boone County sheriff's deputy and gunned his car toward other police officers in a high-speed chase down Interstate 71/75 while driving a stolen car.
"He is just lucky no one was killed," Ms. Smith said.
"But how does that make him any less dangerous than someone who did end up killing a mother or father in their careless course of conduct?"
Mr. Meyer and Mr. Iles were not pulled from the list of prisoners to be released until after state officials learned their cases would be profiled in Friday's Enquirer, Ms. Carnahan said.
Mr. Patton was in Washington, D.C., Friday and wasn't available for comment, but his office released a written statement, which said, in part:
"I have full confidence in the corrections department's ability to carry out the commutation in a responsible manner. Politicians who criticize our actions to meet our constitutional obligation but offer no solution compromise our ability to do what is best for all the citizens of Kentucky."
Mr. Chandler is a Democratic candidate for governor this year. Mr. Patton cannot run again because of term limits.
The inmates released Friday were from 56 county jails and 15 state prisons, plus halfway houses. They were released an average of 136 days before the end of their sentences.
Prosecutors say the corrections department already runs a revolving-door operation during ordinary months.
In an average month, there are 728 inmates released through parole, court order, probation and completion of sentences. An average of 798 inmates go into cells through sentencing and revocation of probation or parole.
Mr. Patton said the state has enough money to house 3,736 of its inmates in county jails, and when that number is exceeded, he has no choice but to release prisoners.
There are more than 14,000 inmates in state institutions.
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