Florida man freed from jail because of coronavirus killed man next day, police say

Edward Williams, 26, was released based on concerns over coronavirus but was eligible to be freed on bond.

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By Dennis Romero

A Florida man is accused of killing a man the day after being released from jail because of fears that coronavirus could spread in corrections facilities, authorities said Tuesday.

Edward Williams, 26, of Tampa, was arrested Monday and is facing charges of second-degree murder, gun possession, violently resisting an officer, drug possession and paraphernalia possession, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

He remained in lockup Tuesday night with no bond, according to jail records.

Williams was freed last month, six days after being arrested on suspicion of heroin possession, a third-degree felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor, according to jail records.

A state judge had authorized the local sheriff "to release any pretrial detainee arrested for a municipal or county ordinance violation, a misdemeanor offense, a criminal traffic offense,or a third-degree felony offense."

"The order was drafted in an effort to lower the risk of the spread of COVID-19 within the Hillsborough County detention facilities and to protect the inmates, deputies and civilian staff working within the jails," the sheriff's department said in a statement.

On March 20, a man was fatally shot in a community called Progress Village, sheriff's officials said. Williams was allegedly involved in the slaying, authorities said.

"There is no question Joseph Williams took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes while he was out of jail awaiting resolution of a low-level, non-violent offense." Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement Tuesday.

The sheriff's statement, however, acknowledged that Williams could also have been freed on those prior charges if he had come up with $2,500 bond.

"Judges, prosecutors and sheriffs around the country are facing difficult decisions during this health crisis with respect to balancing public health and public safety," Chronister said. "Sheriffs in Florida and throughout our country have released non-violent, low-level offenders to protect our deputies and the jail population from an outbreak."

NBC News affiliate WFLA of Tampa reports that the sheriff's department has so far released 164 low-level and non-violent offenders.