The manhunt for a convicted killer who left a South Carolina prison under baffling circumstances has been going on for more than two months with little progress. The reward for his capture continued to mount, rising to $60,000, as authorities repeatedly pleaded for help. It was dangerous, they warned, and could be anywhere.
Finally, in recent days, investigators received a promising tip: their fugitive, Jeriod Price, was in New York. And on Wednesday, authorities said, he was arrested in a Bronx apartment.
« Jeriod Price is no longer a wanted man, » South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson announced at a news conference. Mr. Price, who had served just 19 years of a 35-year prison sentence for a 2002 murder, was back in custody, he said: « He will be returning to South Carolina very soon. »
The twist in Mr. Price’s case was that he didn’t run away. He was released in March under a secret order signed by a prominent judge who retired the next day.
The unusual circumstances surrounding Mr. Price’s release have prompted close scrutiny from law enforcement, prosecutors and senior elected officials in South Carolina, including Governor Henry McMaster, who described the situation as « apparently contrary to law and obviously contrary to common sense ».
A challenge to Mr. Price’s release went to the state Supreme Court, where judges also questioned the validity of the order and eventually overturned it, effectively turning Mr. Price into a fugitive after he failed to constituted.
Todd Rutherford, Mr Price’s attorney, argued that the judge’s order was justified because Mr Price had provided vital assistance to prison officials protecting correctional officers from attack and warning them of an inmate’s escape.
He said the stealth nature of the order was intended to protect Mr Price – who he believed was in grave danger because of the information he was sharing – rather than conceal a questionable judicial process.
« It’s good to know Jeriod Price is safe from those who try to harm him, » Mr. Rutherford said in a text message Wednesday. « Now, he has to worry about those in government who continue to hurt him. »
Mr. Price will remain in New York until he appears before a federal judge there, officials said. It wasn’t clear when he would return to South Carolina.
But corrections officials said they would provide him with additional protection once he returns to South Carolina, including placing him in a single cell and restricting his movement. « We will take precautions to make sure he is protected, » Bryan P. Stirling, director of the state department of corrections, told reporters.
The manhunt began after the South Carolina high court requested Mr. Price’s return to custody on April 26. He had obtained a driver’s license with an address in Florence, SC, upon his release on March 15, though he didn’t leave many trails to follow.
But investigators were able to locate him after calls were made to a tip line operated by the state’s Department of Corrections. A person in South Carolina said Mr. Price was in New York. Federal agents and NYPD officers began watching an apartment in the Bronx and confirmed he was there.
Mr. Price was arrested Wednesday morning « without the need for force, » said Mr. Wilson, the attorney general.
The reward, which totals $60,000 with funds from various state and federal law enforcement agencies, will be paid, officials said.
Price, 43, was sentenced in 2003 to 35 years in prison for killing Carl Smalls Jr., a college football player, at a nightclub in Columbia, the state capital. Police said the shooting was the result of a gang conflict. Mr Price did not deny shooting Mr Smalls but maintained that he was defending himself.
In a statement broadcast by Mr. Wilson, Carl Smalls Sr., the victim’s father, expressed relief Wednesday. « This just underscores our faith in the law enforcement community, » Wilson told reporters, echoing what the elderly Mr. Smalls had told him in a telephone conversation.
The family said Mr Price’s release had come as a painful surprise. Relatives were advised on the day of his release that he would soon be released, but there were no previous indications that an early release was possible.
The controversy has prompted a review of the process surrounding the early release of inmates and has even called for a review of the process by which judges are selected in South Carolina.
South Carolina is a rare state where the legislature selects judges. And Mr. Rutherford, Mr. Price’s attorney, is the Democratic leader in the State House and sits on the committee that plays an important role in determining which judicial candidates can advance in the process.
Mr. Rutherford argued that Mr. Price’s case had been swept up in politics. « He helped the people of South Carolina, » he said, referring to information he provided to corrections officers, « and his reward was that his life was endangered by people seeking of political gain ».
But Mr Wilson said the broader conversation about Mr Price’s release and the justice system in general would continue. « We want a system that is transparent and that people can trust, » he said.
“In this particular case,” he went on, “the day was won. Mr. Price is arrested. He’s going back to prison. The Smalls family is happy.