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'We made mistakes': Convicted murderer mistakenly released from jail rearrested

Cook County Sheriff via AP

This photo provided by the Cook County Sheriff's Office shows Steven L. Robbins, a convicted murderer police in Indiana. He was mistakenly released from custody in Chicago on Wednesday and rearrested late Friday.

CHICAGO -- A convicted murderer from Indiana who was mistakenly released following a Chicago court appearance was back in custody Saturday after authorities tracked him down about 60 miles away.

Steven L. Robbins, 44, was rearrested late Friday night without incident in Kankakee, south of Chicago in northeastern Illinois, the Cook County Sheriff's Department said in a news release. Although the details of his capture weren't immediately released, officials said they used various leads and interviews with friends and family members at police headquarters to locate him.

The reason Robbins was able to escape in the first place, Illinois officials acknowledged, was because they lost paperwork directing them to return him to Indiana.

Robbins was serving a 60-year sentence for murder in Indiana and was escorted by Cook County sheriff's deputies to Chicago this week for a court appearance in a separate case involving drug and armed violence charges — a case that had actually been dismissed in 2007.

After appearing before two Cook County Circuit Court judges, Robbins was taken to a jail on Chicago's South Side. He was released hours later, instead of being sent back to Indiana to continue his murder sentence. The public was not alerted that he was on the loose for about 24 hours.

'We made mistakes'
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart on Friday took responsibility for Robbins' release, saying a document showing he should be returned to Indiana disappeared while his deputies were transporting the prisoner, sometime between a Tuesday court appearance and his return to jail after a second court appearance Wednesday. Robbins was released Wednesday evening.

"We're not ducking the fact we dropped the ball. We made mistakes," Dart said. "The public deserves much more. We're going to find out what went wrong here."

But Dart and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, both prominent local Democrats, exchanged tense words about who should accept responsibility for having Robbins brought to Chicago from Indiana.

Alvarez said her office had told Dart's office that it didn't need to bring Robbins from Indiana because the drug and armed violence case was closed. But Dart's office proceeded anyway, she said, because of confusion over the outcome of the case and because Robbins demanded to stand trial.

"The Cook County Sherriff's Police, despite the fact that the assistant state's attorney told them that they didn't have to bring him back, they thought it would be better if they did bring him back to get this all cleared up because the guy keeps writing letters demanding trial," Alvarez told reporters.

But Dart said his office sought — and was granted — permission from the state attorney's office to bring Robbins to Chicago. The sheriff showed The Associated Press a copy of the extradition request from September signed by one of Alvarez's prosecutors.

"We can't just go to any state in the country and say 'You know what? We're going to take someone out of your prison and bring him here.' ... They're the ones that signed off on allowing us to go get this guy," Dart said.

Dart also said that because of an antiquated computer system, his office thought an arrest warrant for Robbins in the case was still active, which is why it asked the state attorney's office for permission to extradite Robbins.

"It's our fault but we move 100,000 people a day and it's all done with paper," Dart said.

Before Robbins was captured, federal and local law enforcement officers knocked on doors in Illinois and Indiana on Friday, including those of his friends and relatives, the sheriff's office said. The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to his apprehension.

Robbins, a Gary, Ind., native, was serving a sentence for murder and weapons convictions out of Marion County in Indiana.

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