Jeriod Price had served more than half of a 35-year prison sentence for murdering another man at a nightclub in 2002. Last month, he became a fugitive. South Carolina authorities warned the public that he was dangerous and “could be anywhere in the world,” pleading for information that could aid their sudden, frantic search. A prominent judge signed and then sealed an order clearing the way for Price’s release from prison in March, even though he still had 16 years remaining on his sentence, reports the New York Times. A month later, the South Carolina Supreme Court overruled the judge’s order. Price failed to surrender, setting off a manhunt with officers from law enforcement agencies combing the state and beyond. The judge’s order, later unsealed, justified Price’s early release by citing critical assistance he had provided to corrections officials, including tipping them off to a high-profile inmate’s escape.
Price’s lawyer said the furtive nature of the process was meant to shield him from retribution. Law enforcement officials and the family of the man Price was convicted of murdering in 2002 said they were blindsided by what they have condemned as a deeply suspicious and entirely undeserved deal. “He’s a coldblooded murderer, and he’s a well-connected coldblooded murderer,” said David Pascoe, who prosecuted Price for the killing of Carl Smalls Jr., a college football player, at a nightclub in Columbia. “He’s not the type of person we need out on our streets, that’s for sure.” Last month, Gov. Henry McMaster urged state corrections officials to look for any similar early release orders from the past year, trying to determine just how unusual Price’s case was. The Department of Corrections found at least 26 other instances since the beginning of last year in which sentences were reduced after an inmate provided information or other help to law enforcement.