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Two of 3,200 Washington Inmates Released by Mistake Are Linked to Killings

Two of as many as 3,200 inmates mistakenly released early in Washington state since 2002 have been connected to killings that occurred while they still should have been locked up, state officials acknowledged.

The prisoners were released early over the last 13 years because of problems calculating sentences, the state Corrections Department said this week.

The error was discovered three years ago, it said, but a scheduled software fix was never made — and it still isn't in place.

IMAGE: Jeremiah A. Smith
Jeremiah A. Smith is charged with with first-degree murder in the death of a Spokane teenager three months before he should have been released from prison. Washington Department of Corrections

Prison officials said Thursday that Jeremiah A. Smith, 26, committed an attempted robbery that ended in the the death of Ceasar Medina, 17, in Spokane on May 26 — 12 days after he was mistakenly freed on convictions for first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and second-degree assault.

Ceasar died from a gunshot wound to his neck and chest, according to an autopsy. Smith wasn't supposed to have been freed until August, prison officials said Thursday.

Smith was arrested June 4 and remains in the Spokane County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail on multiple felony charges, including first-degree murder.

State Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke apologized and said he made contact with Ceasar's mother on Wednesday.

"I'm heartsick that this tragedy occurred at all, much less during the time in which Jeremiah Smith should have been incarcerated," Pacholke said in a statement Thursday.

Tracy Scott Collins, an attorney for Smith, told Reuters on Thursday that he was concerned that Smith's right to a fair trial might be hampered by his "being identified with this group of inmates released early by the state."

IMAGE: Robert Jackson
Robert Jackson is charged with vehicular homicide in the Nov. 11 death of Lindsay Hill three weeks before he was supposed to be released from prison. Washington Department of Corrections

Pacholke apologized earlier this week after it was revealed that a second offender, Robert Jackson, 38, had been charged with vehicular homicide and felony hit and run in the Nov. 11 death of his girlfriend, Lindsay Hill, 35, a mother of two in Bellevue.

Jackson — who wasn't supposed to have been released until Dec. 6 on a robbery conviction — remains jailed in King County in lieu of $2 million bail.

Corrections officials said last week that at least 27 people, including Smith and Jackson, have been identified as subject to rearrest because of the error. That number could grow as staff members continue to review cases.

No explanation has been offered for why the software fix wasn't applied three years ago. Corrections workers told NBC station KHQ of Spokane that it was delayed at least 16 times.

Gov. Jay Inslee said this week that the fix will be applied by mid-January.

"I have a lot of questions about how and why this happened, and I understand that members of the public will have those same questions," Inslee told reporters. "I expect the external investigation will bring the transparency and accountability we need to make sure this issue is resolved."