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Murderer mistakenly released from York County jail

By Meghan Cooke and Jamie Self – macooke@charlotteobserver.com, jself@heraldonline.com
By Meghan Cooke and Jamie Self      The Herald

YORK –

Authorities this morning are still looking for the convicted murderer who was released by mistake from the York County Detention Center on Monday.

Lt. Mike Baker, spokesman for the York County Sheriff’s Office, declined to discuss specifics, citing the active investigation.

In addition to searching for 31-year-old Thomas Aaron Whitlock, Baker said, the sheriff’s office is also continuing to investigate how the accidental release happened.

He declined to say how officials learned of Whitlock’s mistaken release, which happened at 3 p.m. Monday. Authorities didn’t discover the error until 1 p.m. Tuesday, and didn’t notify the public until more than six hours after that.

“That is part of the active investigation,” Baker said. “We prefer to answer all of those questions at the same time.”

The sheriff’s office has scheduled a 1 p.m. press conference, as which time Baker said he hoped to make more information available.

After learning of the error, authorities said they launched an effort to find Whitlock, who was convicted in connection with a 2009 murder in Charlotte.

Whitlock, an inmate in North Carolina, had been brought to York County to appear in court on drug-related charges there. Authorities said they realized he’d been mistakenly released as arrangements were being made to return him to Bertie Correctional Institution in eastern North Carolina.

Sheriff Bruce Bryant said he wants answers on how the error happened.

“I could go into a lot of discussions that we’ve had as to how this took place,” he said. “We deal with thousands and thousands of prisoners each year, book close to 7,000 prisoners each year. There has been a mistake made.”

Bryant, who had been away from the office Tuesday afternoon, said he couldn’t comment on department procedures for ensuring an inmate’s identity. He said he would have more details Wednesday.

The Sheriff’s Office said Whitlock has an “extensive” criminal history and is now wanted as a fugitive from justice.

Whitlock was charged in the June 2009 killing of Jamie Thompson, who was found shot on Old Concord Road in Charlotte’s University City area. Thompson died nearly two months later, according to reports at the time, and police began hunting for Whitlock.

Whitlock wasn’t arrested until April 2010, when FBI agents found him hiding underneath a house in Dallas, Texas.

He was convicted of second-degree murder and possession of a gun by a felon in May 2011. He was sentenced to 11-14 years, according to the N.C. Department of Correction.

A search of S.C. records show Whitlock had previously been convicted on burglary, robbery and drug charges.

The information about Whitlock’s release was sent to the news media about six and a half hours after authorities discovered the error.

Bryant did not comment on the delay, except to say, “The media is very, very important in cases like this, but it’s not the first thing you do.”

Bryant said Tuesday night that Whitlock’s whereabouts were unknown at that time.

“It’s possible he could be anywhere,” Bryant said. “That’s the reason we’re asking for the public’s help.”

The Sheriff’s Office, along with the N.C. Division of Adult Correction and other law enforcement, are working together to find Whitlock. Authorities said he has relatives in Rock Hill. At the time of his incarceration, his address was listed as Dallas, Texas.

Authorities said Whitlock is 5-feet-11 and 144 pounds. The Sheriff’s Office said people should not approach Whitlock. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 803-628-3059 or Crime Stoppers at 1-877-409-4321.

http://www.heraldonline.com/2012/02/29/3779689/york-co-releases-murder-suspect.html

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