Why was NY rape suspect out of jail? Computer problems and human error, review says
Because of incompatible computer systems, a judge set a low bail for Walker not knowing he had recently been let out of jail before starting a seven-year prison sentence for burglary
By Rylee Kirk
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A man accused of raping a Le Moyne College student in her dorm was out of jail because of incompatible court computer systems and human error.
That’s the conclusion of a review by the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office into why Jerel Walker, 35, was let out of jail just three days before police say he raped a woman on June 7.
A judge set a low bail for Walker not knowing he had recently been let out of jail before starting a seven-year prison sentence for burglary. If that had been known, Walker’s bail likely would have been much higher or he might have been held without bail.
The review by the DA’s office found:
- The county court and city court computer systems don’t communicate with each other, meaning the arraigning judge’s clerk couldn’t see that Walker was out of jail and waiting to go to prison.
- The prosecutor didn’t have Walker’s RAP sheet going into the Saturday arraignment, so he didn’t know about Walker’s pending prison sentence or past convictions.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick has described Walker being out of jail at the time of the rape as “incomprehensible” and “unacceptable.”
Fitzpatrick originally believed the mistake that let Walker out was a clerk not entering the information about his plea. After an internal review, it was found the problem was the county and city court systems don’t share information. That means that many judges are flying blind. If they’re a county court judge they cannot see anything in the city court system and vice versa.
That’s how Walker was let out of jail before the alleged rape. Walker was granted a conditional release by Onondaga County Court Judge Stephen Dougherty on June 2 before his sentencing to 7 years for a burglary.
In letting him out, Dougherty warned Walker that if he got into trouble he could serve more time.
The day after Dougherty released him Walker violated an order of protection by entering his ex-girlfriend’s house, landing him back in court.
Walker was arrested on June 3 and appeared June 4 in front of Syracuse City Court Judge Vanessa Bogan. Bogan’s clerk checked the city court computer system and didn’t see Walker’s plea, according to a transcript of the court proceeding.
The information on Walker’s plea to burglary, his pending prison sentence and his conditional release were in the county court computer system, inaccessible to Bogan’s clerk, the DA’s review found.
The assistant district attorney handling the case, Michael Mordue, was also unaware of Walker’s history. Chief Assistant District Attorney Joe Coolican said Mordue didn’t know because the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office didn’t create a RAP sheet for Walker.
Mordue also didn’t look up Walker’s history in the district attorney’s database, Coolican said. Assistant district attorneys, however, usually do not look suspects up beforehand, he said.
Sgt. Jon Seeber, a spokesperson for the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed that deputies did not provide the court with a RAP sheet for Walker. It is the usual practice for the office to provide the RAP sheet, he said.
The court and the district attorney’s office also can pull RAP sheets, Seeber said. .
In city court, Walker tried to tell the judge and lawyers about his previous arrest and release for burglary but his lawyer, Benjamin Coffin, kept trying to tell him to be quiet, according to the court transcript.
“I took a plea yesterday for a furlough and he released me until I go back to court to be sentenced in August,” he said.
Bogan set bail at $1,500. Walker was released again on June 4.
Three days later at around 5:30 a.m. June 7, police say Walker climbed through a first-floor window of a townhouse on the Le Moyne College campus. Once inside, he punched the woman in the face several times and sexually assaulted her, police said in court papers. She was taken to a hospital for a broken nose.
Two days after the rape Walker was arrested and brought back to the Onondaga County Justice Center.
Syracuse City Court Judge Erica Clarke arraigned Walker on the rape charge on June 10, according to jail records. The judge ordered Walker held with no bail on the rape charge and other charges.
Walker’s original plea deal to serve seven years for a burglary charge was thrown out because he violated his conditional release.
Can this happen again?
District Administrative Judge James P. Murphy is working on a solution to the incompatible computer systems according to the DA’s report. Murphy did not respond to requests for comment from Syracuse.com.
When asked about changing the computer systems, Lucien Chalfen, a spokesperson for the New York State Court Administration, said it would be too costly. The state oversees both court systems.
“That is something we are aware of and a huge undertaking, millions of dollars to do,” he said. “What happened is an unfortunate confluence of circumstances, and we remain vigilant regarding defendant look ups at arraignment.”
Fitzpatrick said that for now his office will push for fewer conditional releases. He also said his office’s policy of always having a RAP sheet at arraignment is being reinforced.
Walker was sentenced to 15 years in prison for burglary and was sent to Elmira Correctional Facility, according to inmate records.
The rape charges are pending.