Murder suspect's erroneous release highlights ongoing issue, prosecutors say

Deputies continue search for murder suspect Eric Vail

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Broward Sheriff's Office deputies and prosecutors said Monday afternoon that the mistake of releasing a murder suspect early highlights an ongoing communication issue within the court system.

Eric Vail was erroneously released from a Broward County jail Thursday.

Keyla Concepcion, a spokeswoman for the Broward Sheriff's Office, said that while BSO detention deputies transport inmates in and out of court, they are only responsible for the care, custody and control of the inmate. 

"It is the responsibility of the Broward County Clerk of Courts to distribute official documentation between all the essential parties about court proceedings, to include communications involving inmates in custody," Concepcion said in a statement. 

Broward County Clerk of Courts Brenda Forman's office notified the deputies under Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony's command that the second-degree murder charge Vail was facing in the Oct. 26 killing of Wadarius Harris had been dismissed. 

"At the time Vail was scheduled for release, the jail had not received any documentation from the Clerk of Courts stating the subject was to remain in custody to face another charge," Concepcion said.

Joyce Edwards, Harris' grandmother, said Monday afternoon that she was distraught to learn of the mistake authorities had made. She said it took a while for deputies to arrest Vail. Since her grandson is not coming back, she is eager to see him feel the full weight of justice. 

"I don't know how it happened, but it happened, and I hope that this will be corrected," Edwards said. "I pray for his family and I hope he doesn't do something else foolish before they catch him." 

Detectives arrested Vail in January when they first had evidence that he had killed Harris, which was enough for prosecutors to charge him with second-degree murder.

As the investigation continued, detectives said, they later had evidence to help prosecutors show that the killing was both "willful and premeditated," which increased the seriousness of the crime. 

Prosecutors said Vail's second-degree murder charge, which they filed Jan. 29, was dismissed because, with the new evidence in the case, a grand jury was able to indict him April 9 on the more serious charge of first-degree murder.

"It's hard to know how the sheriff's office didn't know about the first-degree murder charge," Paula McMahon, a spokeswoman for the Broward County state attorney's office, said in a statement. 

The Broward County Clerk of Courts has not released a statement about the investigation. As of early Tuesday morning, deputies were still searching for Vail.

"Our focus remains on apprehending this dangerous criminal," Concepcion said. 

Deputies are asking anyone with information about the case to call Broward County Crime Stoppers at 954-493-8477.

About the Authors: