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Prisoner mistakenly released early a suspect in fatal shooting in Spokane

Jeremiah A. Smith (Sredit)
Jeremiah A. Smith (Sredit)

A man mistakenly released from prison three months early because of a computer error was charged with shooting and killing a teenager during a Spokane robbery when he should have been locked up, officials said Thursday.

Jeremiah A. Smith, 26, was wrongly released on May 14 from a state prison, making him one of as many as 3,200 offenders freed early since 2002 because of a software coding error that miscalculated sentences. Twelve days after his release, police say, he gunned down 17-year-old Ceasar Medina while robbing the Northwest Accessories tattoo parlor on Monroe Street.

He has been charged with first-degree murder.

Smith, who had been convicted for his role in a violent home-invasion robbery, shouldn’t have been released until Aug. 10.

It’s the second death tied to the early release of prisoners, and there are likely to be more crimes that have been committed by inmates freed too soon, Department of Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke said Thursday.

“I’m very concerned about what we’ll uncover as we move forward,” Pacholke said in a conference call with reporters. “It concerns me deeply about just the tragedy that is being produced based on early release.”

Another prisoner mistakenly released early has been charged with vehicular homicide in the death of his girlfriend in a car crash that happened when he should have been behind bars, state officials revealed Monday.

Pacholke said he and Gov. Jay Inslee have apologized and offered condolences to Medina’s mother and the family of the woman killed.

A murder conviction for Medina’s death would be Smith’s third strike, sending him to prison for life without parole.

In 2009 Smith, who was then using the name Glen A. Akers, pistol-whipped a woman several times in the head while her child slept in another room.

Smith is currently being held in the Spokane County Jail on $1 million bond awaiting trial on the murder charge.

“I’m heartsick that this tragedy occurred at all, much less during the time in which Jeremiah Smith should have been incarcerated,” Pacholke said.

A message left Thursday with Smith’s attorney was not immediately returned.

The attorney general’s office advised the Department of Corrections in 2012 that it wasn’t necessary to manually recalculate prisoners’ sentences after the software error was brought to light, according to documents released by the department late Wednesday.

The assistant attorney general assigned to the agency wrote in December 2012 that from a “risk management perspective,” a recalculation by hand of hundreds of sentences was “not so urgent” because a software reprogramming fix would eventually take care of the issue, according to the emails released in response to a public records request by the Associated Press.

Corrections officials acknowledged this week that the software fix was delayed 16 times and ultimately never done. A fix is expected early January, and corrections officials say they are doing manual recalculations for prisoners whose sentences may have been affected.

The agency was alerted to the error in December 2012, when a victim’s family learned of a prisoner’s imminent release. The family did its own calculations and found that the prisoner was being credited with too much time for good behavior.

The mistake followed a 2002 state Supreme Court ruling requiring the Department of Corrections to apply good-behavior credits earned in county jail to state prison sentences. But the programming fix ended up giving prisoners with sentencing enhancements too much “good time credit.”

Sentencing enhancements include additional prison time given for certain crimes, such as those using firearms. Under state law, prisoners who get extra time for sentencing enhancements cannot have it reduced for good behavior.

Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay said the reasons for delays in fixing the software glitch will be one of the things examined by an independent investigator appointed by Inslee.

“That’s probably the biggest question we haven’t been able to answer,” Barclay said. “Priorities came up and they were re-prioritized down the ladder, but that’s not a good answer.”

So far, more than two dozen offenders who need to serve additional time are back in custody, and the Department of Corrections is reviewing additional releases.

“I’m very confident that we’ll get to the bottom of it,” Pacholke said.

Staff writer Nina Culver and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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