Wanted Criminals Escape Justice

WUSA -- A 9-month investigation by our partners at USA Today and WUSA uncovered tens of thousands of wanted felons are escaping justice simply by crossing state lines.

This nationwide investigation focuses on hard-core crimes: people wanted for rape, kidnapping and even, murder. Yet, police departments and prosecutors around the nation are failing to collect their suspects from out of state even when another department has the wanted person in custody.

"I ran because I didn't want to sit in jail," says Thomas Terlecky. He was wanted for sexually assaulting a 14 year-old girl in Philadelphia. He Arrested repeatedly in the Miami area, but Pennsylvania authorities never came to get him

"It really shocked me and I was surprised they let me walk out of there with a warrant for my arrest, " adds Lamont Pride who was wanted in North Carolina by Greensboro police. He walked out of jail in NY on drug charges and later killed a police officer in New York.

Kristin Kozak was wanted in Maryland, when she fatally shot her husband in the head.

In fact, nationwide police have decided they won't extradite 186,873 wanted felons. Extradition is an official sounding word. But basically it means bringing back fugitives to face charges where the crime happened.

In Tennessee, police say fugitive Jacob Allan Bennett shot and killed four people AFTER authorities in Florida turned down at least four chances to come get him.

"If he would have been in custody like he was supposed to be, none of this would have happened, " says one of the victim's friends.

Fugitives routinely escape justice because police are unwilling, unable or have even determined in advance they will not pursue them in other states, even those that share a border.

"It is frustrating when you run somebody and they are wanted and then it's here's your free pass. Walk on, " explains Chief John Pelura, III of the Salem, NJ Police.

There are tens of thousands of wanted criminals, but jails are already packed. And in some cases, there is money to pursue the wanted criminals across state lines, even if it's just a few miles away.

"In our jurisdiction alone, we have approximately 8,000 warrants. Our jail's capacity is already maxed out, " says Capt. John Fetzer of the Camden County Sheriff's Office.

Over the past decade, police in D.C. were forced to release nearly 2,800 fugitives after holding them for extradition, only to find other police agencies were not willing to pick them up.

"The system has to be fixed. And we need to sit down with prosecutors, with law enforcement, with funders, legislators and address this problem because there is no explanation, " says Scott Burns, executive director o the National District Attorney's Association.

You can check out your department's fugitive numbers. There are two links, but both will get you to other counties in our state as well as give you statewide numbers.

Guilford County Data

Forsyth County Data

So how do prosecutors and law enforcement in our state and right here in the Triad decide who bring back for trial? Why didn't Greensboro police bring back Lamont Pride? 2 Wants To Know is digging into that right now. See our findings Thursday on 2WTK at 5:30.


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