A sheriff in Mississippi is speaking out after a 17-year-old suspected of fatally shooting someone in March was released from jail on his own recognizance—only to allegedly shoot and kill an elderly woman eight months later.
Per the Jackson Clarion Ledger, Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson blamed Verona Police Chief J.B. Long for a series of missteps that allowed for the release of murder suspect Latavious Betts. Betts was the suspect in the March 22 shooting at a Verona car wash that left one dead and one wounded.
Despite being charged with first-degree murder, Long said Betts was released in April as they didn’t have enough evidence to hold him. This resulted in him being issued in a $50,000 bond and being released on his own recognizance, never posting bond and seeing a judge, according to the newspaper.
“He was just turned loose to go back out and do whatever he wanted to do,” Johnson commented. “That is concerning of how this happened. The only way an individual posts bond at our jail is I have to approve any and all bonds so this was all done without my knowledge, outside the realm of the sheriff’s department.
While out on a recognizance bond, Betts was charged with aggravated assault in July for a shooting that injured two. The Ledger reported that the teen appeared before a judge and was issued a $50,000 bond—but was released again.
Johnson claimed the judge wasn’t made aware of Betts’ first-degree murder charge during his July court hearing. In September, the Lee County Police Department sent his case file over the district attorney, who presented it to the grand jury during his indictment the same month. In early October, the district attorney requested Betts be held without bond, according to the news outlet.
The Lee County Circuit Clerk’s Office told the Ledger they assigned an arrest warrant to Lee County police. For unknown reasons, the warrant was never issued nor did Betts appear for his arraignment.
The series of apparent oversights is why one of the victims’ families is suing the city of Verona and its police chief. Following a week on the run, Betts was arrested last week for his possible role in the December 7 drive-by shooting that killed Annie Walton, 66, and left four wounded.
The slain woman’s attorney accused Long of failing to inform the judge of Betts’ pending murder charge in July, essentially allowing him the chance to kill again. The lawyer said it’s “unprecedented” for someone facing a murder charge to be released on a recognizance bond.
According to the Ledger, Long said his choice to release Betts “may not have been the best.”
“He never should have been on the streets,” Casey Lott told WTVA. “He should have been behind bars and incapable of committing crimes. The ball was dropped not once but twice by Chief J.B. Long.”
[Featured image: Latavious Betts/Lee County Sheriff’s Department]