State officials mistakenly free murder suspect; investigation sought
Law Office of Tim Powers
A 18-year-old youth facing a murder charge and certified to stand trial as an adult spent more than seven months housed with younger offenders at the Giddings State School before he was mistakenly freed, officials confirmed last week.
The murder suspect — identified only as Anthony M — is now back in jail in Fort Bend County after being released from Giddings on March 29 because he had turned 19 and could no longer be held in a state youth lockup.
Officials conceded he should have been held for Fort Bend County authorities on the murder charge, but was not because an employee did not properly review all the paperwork before he was released to his mother. The employee has been suspended for three days, they said.
Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, called for a full investigation of the mistaken release — which he said he caused several witnesses in the murder case to stop talking to police — and why the certified adult was even at Giddings in the first place.
“This is the second time in just a couple of months where a youth who is certified to stand trial on serious felony charges as an adult has been returned to a state juvenile facility,” Whitmire said. “That should not happen. This guy spent months and months mingled with younger offenders at Giddings who are there for much less serious offenses. That should not happen.
“This is nuts. It’s got to stop.”
In January, a 17-year-old youth who had been certified as an adult and served time in El Paso’s adult jail was sent to a state juvenile lockup in Mart, where he critically beat up another youth. He is now back in an adult jail awaiting trial as an adult on the new charges, officials said.
Jim Hurley, a spokesman for the state juvenile-justice agency, said Anthony M was received by the agency from Fort Bend County in May 2011 after violating probation on a gun-theft charge. Fort Bend County investigators took custody of the youth in January 2012, and he remained out of state custody until August 2012, state officials said.
An internal Texas Juvenile Justice Department report obtained by the Statesman shows that a Fort Bend County juvenile judge “assigned an agreed bail in the amount of $100,000 on the charge of murder for youth AM. In the same document the judge orders that youth AM be transferred forthwith to Giddings State School to complete his duties and responsibilities to his juvenile delinquency finding.”
When the youth completed his indeterminate sentence in the youth lockup, which ended when he turned 19 because the agency cannot hold youths any older than that, he was to have been returned to Fort Bend County on the murder case, the report states.
Hurley said his agency did not know the youth had been certified to stand trial as an adult, a legal distinction that means they are to be held in adult jails. Instead, the youth returned to Giddings on Aug. 22, 2012 — along with a notice that Fort Bend County officials were to get custody of him after his sentence ended.
On March 29, he “aged out” of the juvenile-justice agency and was released to his mother, Hurley said. Fort Bend officials learned of that three days later, and were not happy.
The youth was apprehended in Houston on April 2, and is now back in jail, officials said.
While in the state juvenile lockups, Hurley said the youth logged 30 write-ups for violating rules — including five fights while at Giddings, which has been plagued by gang-related unrest off and on for the past several years. Hurley said those fights were “before and after” the youth was taken back to Fort Bend County to face the murder charge.
“Obviously, it’s not an optimal situation to have a youth certified as an adult on a murder charge to be housed with the other youths,” Hurley said. “But there was a court order assigning him to TJJD, so we had to take him.”
On Friday, Whitmire said officials in Fort Bend County and Missouri City, where the murder allegedly occurred, were still fuming. Missouri City Police Lt. Paul Poulton, who oversees the department’s criminal investigation unit, said the youth is charged with shooting to death another youth during a fight with a rival gang in the summer of 2010.
“We were told he was accidentally released due to some clerical error,” he said.
For his part, Whitmire said the episode highlights again how serious supervision problems remain at the state’s juvenile justice agency. He said he has asked agency chief Mike Griffiths to fully investigate what happened.
“We continue to see serious dysfunction at this agency, but the courts on Fort Bend County were pretty callous, as well, in this case that involves a very serious mistake,” he said. “I wonder how many certified adult offenders are being co-mingled with youths that we don’t even know about yet?”