S.C. convicted murderer back in custody after secret judge order released him 16 years early
The man’s early release was through a law that allows inmates to have their sentences reduced if they help prison officials
By Noah Feit, John Monk
Jeriod Price, 43, a fugitive for more than two months, is back in custody 77 days after the South Carolina Supreme Court voided an order signed by now-retired Judge Casey Manning that allowed Price to get out of prison after serving only 19 years of a 35-year murder sentence.
Manning’s order was voided on April 26 by the Supreme Court, and Price vanished about that time. Earlier that day, during a high court hearing, justices expressed dismay at the large number of years lopped off Price’s prison sentence and that no public court record existed that reflected that the killer had been released. All records in the case had been sealed.
Price was taken into custody Wednesday morning following an FBI stakeout at an apartment in the Bronx area of New York City, where he was arrested by federal agents and members of the New York Police Department, law enforcement officials said. The FBI and NYPD were acting on a tip to South Carolina law enforcement authorities, according to SLED.
The tip or tips leading to Price’s being taken into custody came into the emergency action center of the S.C. Department of Corrections, said corrections director Bryan Stirling at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
Some $60,000 in reward money from state, local and federal funds was put up for information leading to Price’s apprehension, and “the reward money will be given out,” Stirling said.
Stirling said the first step in getting Price back to South Carolina is for him to go in front of a federal magistrate in New York City.
“There is a federal warrant for unlawful flight (to avoid) prosecution right now,” Stirling said. “That warrant allowed federal authorities, the FBI, to get involved in the search.”
At “some point in time,” Price will be returned to the South Carolina prison system, where he will be evaluated “to determine what his best housing situation is,” Stirling said.
Further information about how law enforcement found Price and his most recent arrest was not available.
No injuries were reported in the arrest.
Price will be returned to South Carolina to finish serving the remainder of his prison sentence, according to the state Department of Corrections.
In 2003, a Richland County jury convicted Price of murder in the 2002 nightclub shooting death of Carl Smalls Jr., a former football player at the University of South Carolina and the University of North Carolina. Smalls was enrolled at UNC when he was killed by Price at a Columbia-area nightspot.
In a statement, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said when he “told the Smalls family that their son’s killer was back in custody, they yelled with joy.
“The Smalls family has endured enough pain and they don’t want any more victims to go through what they have,” Lott said. “It is unfortunate that so many resources were wasted on finding Price. Our criminal justice system has failed.”
Price’s early release from a New Mexico state prison was the result of a secret order signed by Manning that was requested by his attorney, state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and 5th Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson, whose office covers Kershaw and Richland counties.
The order only came to light in late April after 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, who prosecuted Price while working for the 5th Circuit in 2003, disclosed Price’s early release to news media.
Pascoe’s disclosure that Price was out of prison triggered a wave of controversy and response from law enforcement to Gov. Henry McMaster. It also raised questions about cozy relationships between judges and lawyer-legislators like Rutherford, who help select state judges.
“I’m very pleased and I appreciate law enforcement’s efforts in locating him. Not a day went by when multiple law enforcement organizations weren’t coordinating together to locate Mr. Price,” Pascoe told The State on Wednesday.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, in a statement Wednesday afternoon, called Price’s capture and arrest “a message to everyone: if you break the law, we’ve got an army coming for you.
“No matter how hard you try, no matter your position or connections, you can’t outrun the law,” Wilson said. “Locating and apprehending Price would not have been possible without our dedicated federal and state law enforcement partners. Price never should have been released, and I hope the victim’s family can rest a little easier tonight knowing he’s back behind bars.”
Law enforcement had followed leads suggesting Price was in places including Atlanta, Charlotte and New Mexico before he was ultimately located in an apartment building in New York.
Rutherford expressed concern for Price now that he is back in custody, saying his life has been endangered “by people seeking political gain.”
“It is good to know (Jeriod) Price is safe from those outside who seek to do him harm. Now he has to worry about those in government who continue to heap harm on him,” Rutherford said in a news release.
Rutherford had gotten Price sprung from prison using a little-known procedure whereby inmates who help prison officials in various ways, including informing on other inmates, can seek a solicitor’s blessing that their help warrants early release from prison. Once a solicitor favors release, a judge can issue an order to prison officials to release the inmate.
Under state law, a public hearing is supposed to be held in cases of a prisoner’s early release, but no such hearing was held and the victim’s relatives were not notified.
Fifth Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson, who had submitted information to now-retired Judge Casey Manning that led to Price’s release, said he was glad Price had been apprehended but declined further comment.
Stirling said the prison system is aware that Price might be the subject of threats from other inmates for his help to law enforcement and intends to keep him in a single-cell high security environment. “We will take precautions to make sure that he is protected.”
Stirling said Price “did not escape, but he did abscond, we feel like, from justice.”
Reporter Ted Clifford contributed to this article.