CHICAGO — Steven Robbins was wearing a wig and had just returned from grocery shopping, and was watching television when about 20 Cook County sheriff’s police burst into a home in Kankakee and took the fugitive killer into custody Friday night, Sheriff Tom Dart said.
Dart said his office received more than 100 tips as it hunted Robbins, who was mistakenly released from Cook County Jail Wednesday, despite paperwork that said he should be returned to an Indiana penitentiary where he was serving 60 years for murder.
“He was just stunned that we got him,” said Dart, who assisted in the arrest. “He was telling me that he was beyond surprised that he’d been released and just as surprised that we caught him.”
Dart said Robbins quickly began making phone calls to relatives after his release. He made his way to Kankakee, 60 miles south of Chicago, and was dropped off at a house by a relative who told the residents Robbins needed to hide out after being in a fight. Dart said the residents – which included two children - were unsuspecting and wouldn’t face charges. Robbins was taken into custody without incident, Dart said.
The woman who owned the house “was pretty well duped,” Dart said. Several people may face charges for aiding Robbins during his escapade, but, Dart said, others who may have helped him were critical in locating Robbins.
On Friday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said Robbins never should have been brought back to Cook County to face a judge for a warrant issued in 2007 stemming from armed violence charge in 1992, a class X felony. She said an assistant state’s attorney told the sheriff’s office there was no reason to bring Robbins back because the charges had been dismissed.
"The defendant kept writing letters to Cook County court asking to be brought back to Cook County on [the 1992 case], demanding trial on this case," Alvarez said during a press conference on an unrelated topic.
She said the sheriff's office wanted Robbins brought before a Cook County judge "to get this all cleared up because the guy keeps writing letters."
On Saturday Dart agreed Robbins shouldn’t have been returned to Cook County. But he said he was “puzzled” by Alvarez’s comments because the state’s attorney’s office and the chief judge's office had signed off on papers to bring Robbins to Cook County.
Dart said the “system broke down” when Robbins was mistakenly released after being brought to Cook County Jail after a court appearance in Markham. Paperwork directing prison staff that Robbins should be returned to Indiana apparently never made it to the jail, though Dart said an investigation is underway to determine how that happened.
The sheriff’s office uses a paper-based system when it comes to the 1,500 prisoner transfers it oversees each day. Dart said he hopes to use this incident as “exhibit A” that the sheriff’s office needs to modernize its operations.
“The system, by and large, always works,” he said. But, “We’re looking at how we’re going to tweak it.”
Following Robbins’ release, Dart said paperwork will be scanned, rather than faxed, ensuring it doesn’t get lost. And Dart said he will sign off on any future inmate extradition.
He said he expects “some discipline” of sheriff’s office personnel, but didn’t elaborate.
Robbins was in court briefly Saturday, where a judge declined to press further charges against him, the Chicago Tribune reported. His next stop is where this all began: the Indiana State Penitentiary.