'Clerical Error' Blamed for Indiana Murderer's Mistaken Release in Chicago

PHOTO: This photo provided by the Cook County Sheriffs Office shows Steven L. Robbins, a convicted murderer police in Indiana and Illinois are searching for after he was mistakenly released from custody in Chicago.PlayCook County Sheriffs Office/AP
WATCH Murderer Mistakenly Freed in Chicago

A dragnet has been launched for a convicted murderer serving a 60-year prison term who was mistakenly released from a Chicago jail this week.

Steven Robbins, 44, was convicted of shooting a man in 2002 in Indiana when the man tried to intervene in a fight Robbins was having with his wife. The dead man, Rutland Melton, scolded Robbins, telling him he should not hit a woman.

According to documents from Marion County, Ind., Robbins walked to his car, pulled out a gun and shot Melton in the chest.

Robbins was brought to Chicago to appear in court for an unrelated drug case, but when that case was dropped Robbins was released rather than being sent back to Indiana.

The Cook County Sheriff's Office has asked for the public's help in locating Robbins, a native of Gary, Ind. He is described as a black male, around 5-foot-5 and 190 pounds, with a tattoo on the right side of his neck that says "Nicole."

According to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, whose office launched an investigation into Robbins' release, the mistake "appears to be a clerical error."

"In no way are we ducking responsibility," Dart said Friday. "We're going to fix this."

Dart said the office's outdated paper system may be to blame.

"Because no paperwork had gone to the jail about him coming from Indiana, all the people in the records room saw was a guy whose court case was dismissed," he said. "And so he -- like another 200 people a day we release -- was released ... out the front door of the jail.

"It's all a paper system," he added. "And so when people start thinking it's maybe an inside job, the unfortunate reality is all these different detainees that we're dealing with every day -- and we move 1,500 a day -- the entire trail is a paper trail. It's not a computer message from the courtroom to the jail saying, 'Keep him for another 30 days or release him.' It's a piece of paper. We're not happy that it's that way. We've been trying to get it computerized, but it's not there."

Regardless of the reasons, Pam James, public information officer for the Indiana State Prison, suggested the escape is a serious matter.

"We would consider any individual convicted of murder and escaped very dangerous," she said.

She added that Robbins likely did not have many possessions with him on his trip to Illinois.

"Usually, what they would take with them would be their legal material, because it was a court case, and maybe hygiene items because they would be there for a few days -- but it would be a very minimal amount of items that would go with them," she told ABC News' Chicago station WLS.

At a news conference Friday, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said there was no need for Robbins to even be in Illinois, in the first place.

"The Cook County Sheriff's police and their extradition unit and fugitive warrant unit asked for us to bring him back," Alvarez said. "Several days prior to him being brought here, one of our assistant state's attorneys told the Cook County Sheriff's police that there was no need to bring him back because the case had been dismissed back in 2007."