A WORLD-HERALD SPECIAL INVESTIGATION
Nebraska's early-release scandal allows convicts who should have been in prison to commit at least:
102 MISDEMEANORS iL 33 FELONIES
1 DEADLY CRIME
Fifty-one inmates who were let out of prison early spent their dumb-luck freedom committing more crimes.
They racked up 23S charges, resulting in 33 felony and 102 misdemeanor convictions, a World-Herald follow-up investigation shows.
All those crimes were committed — and all the costs of arrest, incarceration and prosecution were incurred — when the prisoners still should have been sitting in cells.
And there's a kicker: The Nebraska Supreme Court says such prisoners should serve the skipped portion of their sentences if they squandered their freedom by continuing their criminal ways.
Yet the newspaper's analysis of police, court and prison records shows that the state has ignored the high court ruling — and the criminal records of released prisoners — as it has sought to clean up the mess created by prison officials who miscalculated sentences for decades.
The records detail a bevy of crimes committed while the prisoners should have been behind bars. Five assaults, including three of police officers. Sixteen thefts. Seventeen drug possessions. Seven drug dealings. Five sex-offender
violations. Four weapons counts. A litany of misdemeanors: DUIs, child abuse, trespassing, driving with a suspended license.
And one drunken crime that exacted the ultimate price.
* * *
Hermino Alamilla closes his deep-set eyes.
He races through a choppy, almost Zapruderlike memory of Aug. 19, 2013 — the day he drove drunk with his best friend, Jerry "JR" Ramirez, riding shotgun.
Alamilla's memories are stitched together by his quiet, melodic use of the phrase "next thing I know."
He finishes his overnight shift at Bosselman's truck stop. Picks up JR. Makes plans to visit the grave of a friend killed in a car wreck years earlier.
Drinks several beers. Eats lunch. Drinks some more.
Weaves through traffic on Highway 281, a four-lane drag on the edge of Grand Island.
Next thing I know ...
His Cadillac spins 180 degrees, dives into the median, rolls and winds up on its roof in the opposite lanes.
Alamilla comes to but can't find Ramirez. He belly crawls from the wreckage, searching for his best friend.
Next thing I know ...
He's clutching his best friend. Ramirez's face is "so messed up" it's unrecognizable.
Alamilla's voice trails.
Next thing I know ...
His eyes swim.
"My best friend is dead ... because of me."
* * *
Here's what Alamilla didn't know: He shouldn't have been out that day.
The Grand Island man, convicted on a cocaine dealing charge, was released in June 2012 — 18 months before he should have been.
Had he stayed until his correct release date, one thing is certain: Ramirez would not have been in a car with him on Aug. 19, 2013.
And Ramirez's 7-year-old son, Eli, might still have his dad.
Add Ramirez's death to the consequences of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services' massive miscalculations. A June 15 World-Herald investigation revealed that prison officials, in violation of Nebraska Supreme Court rulings in 2002 and 2013, had been releasing hundreds of prisoners years too soon.
In the aftermath, officials added more than 2,000 years to the sentences of 550 inmates who were residing in a Nebraska prison at the time of the newspaper's revelation. They rearrested about 20 others whose corrected release dates should have kept them in prison well past June.
But what to do with the inmates - including Alamilla - whose actual release dates had already passed?
State officials had some guidance. In a 2008 ruling, the Nebraska Supreme Court laid out a critical condition for an inmate like Alamilla to receive sentence credit for time inadvertently spent on the streets: that he behave while out.
"It would offend notions of (justice) to credit a prisoner for time erroneously spent at liberty if the individual spent that time committing additional crimes," the high court wrote.
Yet the state has not heeded that ruling, the newspaper's analysis showed.
After sifting through criminal records for the past month, The World-Herald found:
• Many of the 51 returned to prison on sentences for new crimes. But they haven't been required to serve any of the time they owed on the original sentences.
• The state has essentially vacated 113 years of prison sentences by not holding the 51 inmates to the Supreme Court's behavior standard. Net effect: a two-year sentence credit per prisoner.
• The new crimes affected more than three dozen victims. Even in so-called victimless crimes, there was a toll: a bed in a jail, the time of police officers and a prosecutor, the attention of a public defender and a judge.
"There's a cost to all of this," Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said. "You start with the emotional toll. Everyone recognizes the impact of violent crime, but there's a psychological impact whenever someone takes advantage of someone else. Then there's just a tremendous amount of work involved, from all sides of the justice system.
"If you consider all of that, it's just hard to imagine someone would get credit for a time period when they're committing other crimes."
Among those getting credit:
• Patricia Jacobsen, 28, was released in July 2013, one year early from her sentence for dealing meth-amphetamine. Within a month she was arrested on a new meth dealing charge — and was prosecuted in federal court. After The World-Herald report in June, the state put Jacobsen on furlough — a sort of pre-parole parole — though she still had time remaining on her original sentence.
A federal judge then ordered her to begin a five-year sentence for her latest meth-dealing conviction.
• Lincoln resident Peirce Hub-bard-Williams, originally convicted of theft and being a habitual criminal, was let out five years ahead of his July 2016 release date. While out, he was convicted of felony possession of oxycodone. After the state sought to round up Hubbard-Williams in June, State Sen. Ernie Chambers lobbied on his behalf. State Parole Board members released him in July — despite his new felony drug conviction. He is now a free man.
• Aaron Finney, a habitual criminal and thief, was released in April 2010 — five years early. Finney racked up 23 misdemeanors, including domestic assault and several counts of theft, during his state-spon-sored prison break. Then, in 2013, he was convicted on a felony weapons charge. A judge sentenced him to three years in prison. Under that sentence, he'll be released in 2015, just a few months after his original sentence should have ended.
Likewise, 48 other inmates have their own crimes they never should have been able to commit.
None quite like Alamilla.
* * *
After getting out in June 2012, Alamilla ran into problems you might expect from a man who refers to himself, despite his young age, as "institutionalized."
Just 29 at the time of his release, Alamilla had spent most of his 20s serving three separate prison stints: for marijuana possession, being an accomplice to a first-degree assault and for cocaine possession.
Let out from his last prison term on June 29, 2012, he returned to Grand Island to live with his mother.
He met some predictable, perhaps understandable, obstacles. His daughter's mother — who had alleged Alamilla had abused her — didn't want him around their toddler daughter, Mariah.
Alamilla hired an attorney to help him through a child-custody proceeding — and, in time, reconnected with Mariah. At one point he spoiled the toddler by buying her some "ridiculously expensive" black-and-pink Air Jordans. "She loves those shoes," he
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