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MAHONING COUNTY Probe into mistaken release of inmate nears completion



Published: Tue, May 1, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The men's identities could have been kept separate despite their common name.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Usually, mistaken identity is an argument used in the courthouse by defense lawyers to explain why their clients are wrongly accused of a crime.

It's also why Sheriff Randall Wellington says an inmate who should have been headed to prison was inadvertently released from the Mahoning County Jail last week.

There were two inmates with the same name. One was scheduled to be released on probation, and the other had been sentenced to two years in prison for felonious assault. Deputies got confused and released the wrong one, Wellington said.

An internal investigation is being completed and someone will pay for the mistake, the sheriff said. A decision on the discipline, which could include firing, will be made by the end of the week.

Safeguards in system: "Even though these two people had the same name, there are double-checks and triple-checks that you go through to make sure this doesn't happen," Wellington said. "This is a serious situation."

He would not elaborate on who's responsible for the mix-up, or the penalty that will be imposed, because the investigation is not finished.

Wellington said the two men, both named Brian James, have different birth dates, addresses and Social Security numbers, all of which should have been checked to keep their identities straight.

What happened: Brian James, 29, of Republic Avenue, is the one who was sentenced to prison April 13 by Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of common pleas court. He was being held in the county jail awaiting transfer to Lorain Correctional Facility when he was inadvertently released.

The mistake was caught immediately because James called his lawyer, Michael Rich, who notified the court. Parole authorities also notified the court after James showed up there to report for probation.

James was taken back to court for a hearing, after which Judge Krichbaum instructed deputies to take James to jail and "give him a card or paint it on his forehead that says, 'Do not release.'"

Offended: James' mother, Jackie Joe of Youngstown, took offense at the remark, saying it unfairly painted her son as a jail-breaker when he did nothing wrong.

"He didn't break out," Joe said. "I don't want to see nothing painted on his head."

Judge Krichbaum said the remark was directed at deputies in the courtroom, meaning he did not want James to be released again.

Joe also said she believes the two-year prison term was too harsh. She said James fired a shot at a male relative in self-defense during what had become a family feud.

But the judge said the sentence was not out of line.

"The mother of a criminal defendant does not get to be the judge, and that's for a reason," he said.




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