State Watch

Florida inmate released due to coronavirus now facing murder charge

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A Florida inmate that was released because of coronavirus concerns is now back in prison and facing murder charges, police said Tuesday.

Joseph Edward Williams, 26, was released last month from custody, along with more than 100 others, after awaiting trial for possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia. 

He was arrested for allegedly taking part in a March 20 homicide in Tampa and now faces a second-degree murder charge, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said in a release Tuesday. Williams is now back in custody with no bond. 

Williams has also been charged with allegedly resisting an officer with violence, being a felon in possession of a firearm and being in possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia. 

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said Williams “took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes” and called on the state attorney to prosecute him “to the fullest extent of the law.”

“Every murder, every violent crime, especially those involving a gun, is a sickening example of the worst in our community, especially at a time when our community is working relentlessly to fight against the spread of this deadly COVID-19,” Chronister said in a statement.

The defendant was first arrested on March 13 for allegedly possessing heroin, a third-degree felony, and drug paraphernalia, a first-degree misdemeanor. He was released on March 19 before his trial and after an order instructed Hillsborough County to release nonviolent, low-level offenders to avoid a coronavirus outbreak in the detention centers.

Chronister said in his statement that law enforcement is attempting to balance “public health and public safety” with orders allowing low-risk prisoners to be released.

Williams had previously been convicted for two felony offenses, including burglary in 2012 and felon in possession of a firearm in 2018, and five misdemeanor convictions. He has been arrested for 35 charges overall. 

Several advocacy organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have pushed for governments to allow nonviolent, low-risk prisoners of vulnerable populations to leave detention centers that could become a hot spot for the virus. Some states like California and New York have released some prisoners.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has documented 446 federal inmates with the coronavirus, leading to 14 deaths. Another 248 staff members have contracted the disease.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Florida Murder prisoners Tampa
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