The manhunt for a convicted murderer who left a South Carolina prison under mysterious circumstances has dragged on for more than two months with few developments. The reward for his capture continued to grow, climbing to $60,000 when the authorities made repeated requests for help. He was dangerous, they warned, and he could be anywhere.
Finally, in the last few days, investigators received a promising tip: Their fugitive, Jeriod Price, was in New York. And on Wednesday, authorities said, he was arrested at an apartment in the Bronx.
“Jeriod Price is no longer a wanted man,” Alan Wilson, South Carolina’s attorney general, announced at a press conference. Mr. Price, who served only 19 years of a 35-year sentence for a 2002 murder, was back in prison, he said: “He will be back in South Carolina very soon.”
The twist in Mr. Price’s case was that he did not escape. He was released in March under a secret order signed by a prominent judge who retired the next day.
The unusual circumstances of Mr. Price’s release prompted intense scrutiny from law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and top elected officials in South Carolina, including Governor Henry McMaster, who described the situation as “apparently contrary to law and clearly at odds with common sense “.
A challenge to the release of Mr. Price reached the State Supreme Court, where justices also questioned the validity of the order and ultimately overturned it, effectively making Mr. Price a fugitive after he failed to turn himself in.
Todd Rutherford, Mr. Price’s lawyer, argued that the judge’s order was justified because Mr. Price provided crucial assistance to prison officials who protected corrections officers from attacks and alerted them to an inmate’s escape.
He said the covert nature of the order was intended to protect Mr Price – who he believed was in grave danger because of the information he shared – rather than to cover up a questionable judicial process.
“It’s good to know that Jeriod Price is safe from those out there who seek to do him harm,” Mr Rutherford said in a text message on Wednesday. “Now, he has to worry about those in the government who keep piling damage on him.”
Mr. Price will remain in New York until he appears before a federal judge there, officials said. It was unclear when he would return to South Carolina.
But corrections officials said they will give him extra protection once he’s back in South Carolina, including putting him in solitary confinement and restricting his movement. “We’re going to take precautions to make sure he’s protected,” Bryan P. Stirling, director of the state corrections department, told reporters Wednesday.
The manhunt began after the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered the return of Mr. Price to custody on April 26. He got a driver’s license listing an address in Florence, SC, after his release on March 15, though he didn’t leave much of a trail. to follow
But investigators were able to zero in on him after calls were made to a tip line operated by the state Department of Corrections. A person in South Carolina said Mr. Price was in New York. Federal agents and New York City police officers began checking an apartment in the Bronx and confirmed that he was there.
Mr. Price was arrested Wednesday morning with “no force required,” said Mr. Wilson, the attorney general.
The reward, which adds up to $60,000 with funds from various state and federal law enforcement agencies, will be paid, officials said.
Mr. Price, 43, was sentenced in 2003 to 35 years in prison for the killing of Carl Smalls Jr., a college football player, in a nightclub in Columbia, the state capital. Police said the shooting resulted from a gang-related conflict. Mr. Price did not deny shooting Mr. Smalls, but he argued that he was defending himself.
In a statement issued by Mr. Wilson, Carl Smalls Sr., the victim’s father, expressed relief Wednesday. “This just underscores our confidence in the law enforcement community,” Mr. Wilson told reporters, repeating what the elder Mr. Smalls had told him in a telephone conversation.
The family said Mr Price’s release was a painful surprise. Relatives were alerted on the day of his release that he would soon be released, but there was no previous indication that an early release was possible.
The controversy has prompted reviews of the process surrounding the early release of inmates, and even calls to overhaul the process by which judges are selected in South Carolina.
South Carolina is a rare state where the legislature elects judges. And Mr. Rutherford, Mr. Price’s lawyer, is the Democratic leader in the state House and serves on the committee that plays a powerful role in determining which judicial nominees can advance in the process.
Mr. Rutherford argued that Mr. Price’s case had been swept up in politics. “He helped the people of South Carolina,” he said, referring to the information he gave to corrections officers, “and his reward was to have his life endangered by people seeking political gain.”
But Mr Wilson said the larger conversation around Mr Price’s release and the justice system more broadly would continue. “We want a system that is transparent and that people can have confidence in,” he said.
“In this particular case,” he continued, “the day was won. Mr. Price is captured. He returns to prison. The Smalls family is happy.”