Accidentally released killer arrested while watching TV
BY TINA SFONDELES AND BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Sun-Times Media February 2, 2013 11:36PM
This photo provided by the Cook County Sheriff's Office shows convicted murder Steven Robbins back in custody, Saturday Feb. 2, 2013, two days after a stunning series of errors allowed Robbins to walk out of a Chicago jail. The mistaken release of the prisoner, who was serving a 60-year sentence in Indiana for murder, focused attention on an antiquated corner of the criminal justice system that still relies extensively on paper documents instead of computers in moving detainees around and keeping tabs on their court status. Robbins, 44, put up no resistance Friday night as police burst through the door of a townhome in Kankakee, about 60 miles south of Chicago, where he was found watching TV, said Cook County Sheriff's Office spokesman Frank Bilecki. (AP Photo/Cook County Sheriff's Office)
Updated: March 4, 2013 6:57AM
CHICAGO — A convicted killer who spent 52 hours as a free man after being mistakenly released from the Cook County Jail spent the time before his rearrest visiting 11 of his siblings and several cousins around Chicago and the suburbs, authorities said Saturday.
They said Steven Lamont Robbins, 44, a Gary native, also went grocery shopping wearing a wig and sipped Seagram’s VO whiskey while watching TV before he was picked up Friday night at a house in Kankakee.
On Saturday, Robbins was back in custody at the Indiana prison in Michigan City where he is serving a 60-year sentence for murder in the 2002 killing of Rutland Melton in Indianapolis.
But an escape charge was dropped.
Assistant public defender Todd Chatman told the judge Saturday that Robbins had “no intention to attempt to flee.”
After the brief hearing, Chatman told reporters that Robbins wasn’t at fault for walking away.
“He was released by the state, by Cook County,” Chatman said. “They said, ‘Bye.’ ... What are you going to do? You’ve been in prison for 11 years. Are you just going to say, ‘Wait a minute, let me back in?’ He thought he was being shuffled to a van to Indiana, and next thing he knew, as he was getting through the process of getting in to the van ... it’s out the door.”
Robbins went straight from the jail to see family and friends, authorities said.
The Cook County sheriff’s police followed more than 100 leads, “a good number of houses, some that we hit were just an hour before he had left, or five hours before he had left,” Sheriff Tom Dart’s spokesman Frank Bilecki said. “His family was moving around.”
Some of Robbins’ family members and acquaintances might be charged with assisting and harboring a criminal, Bilecki said.
But the woman whose home in Kankakee was raided Friday night didn’t know Robbins, according to Bilecki.
“A relative of his had called her and said, ‘I got a friend that got into a fight. Some people want to hurt him. They may want to kill him. Can we put him in your house for a couple of days?’ ” Bilecki said.
He said the woman was shocked to find out the truth about Robbins.
“This woman wasn’t watching the news, it really sounds like, and she took him in,” Bilecki said. “There’s no way she would have ever put a murderer in her home with her kids.”
He said Dart was at the raid and spent time comforting the children, ages 3 and 5, who were frightened by the ordeal.
Dart had said Friday that a paperwork bungle led to Robbins’ accidental release and accepted the blame, saying, “We let people down.” He also promised, “We’re going to fix this.”
Robbins was picked up from Indiana by sheriff’s office personnel on Tuesday and brought to the Markham courthouse on a warrant stemming from 1992 charges of armed violence and possession of drugs, records show. A judge sent Robbins to the Leighton courthouse at 26th and California, where he appeared Wednesday. The judge noted that the charges connected with the warrant had been dismissed, and then Robbins was released, according to Dart, because sheriff’s employees said they never received Indiana paperwork and county paperwork that declared Robbins shouldn’t be freed but instead should have been returned to prison. That paperwork apparently remained in Markham.
Still, Dart acknowledged his employees let a convicted murder walk out of jail with a bus pass and donated clothes.
“Clearly, the biggest breakdown is in us,” Dart said. “Us, not anybody else. Us not having paperwork follow a guy through the system.”