Convicted Indiana murderer mistakenly released from Cook County Jail

Tribune reporters

An Indiana man convicted of murder has been on the loose since Wednesday evening after Cook County Jail officials mistakenly released him, authorities said.

The Sheriff's Office confirmed that Steven L. Robbins, 44, was released after appearing in Cook County court on armed violence and drug charges, and the charges were dismissed.

But the office didn't alert the public that Robbins, who was convicted of a 2002 fatal shooting a 24-year-old Kentucky man, was on the loose until Thursday evening.

Robbins spent the night in the Cook County Jail Tuesday to attend a court date Wednesday on warrant for a 1992 criminal case, in which he was charged with armed violence--committing a felony while using a gun, said Frank Bilecki, a spokesman for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

After attending the court hearing, Robbins was released at 7 p.m. Wednesday because there was no indication in his jail paperwork that he was ordered to remain in custody, said Bilecki.

Robbins exited through Gate 5, the jail's main entrance.

On Thursday morning, the Cook County fugitive warrant unit called the jail to make arrangements to send Robbins back to the Indiana prison. When jail staff looked up Robbins in their computerized records, Bilecki said, they learned he had been released from custody Wednesday night.

Notifications were then made throughout the sheriff's office and other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and U.S. Marshal's Service.

Authorities didn't want Robbins to immediately know that they were on to him, which is why the public wasn't told about him right away, said Bilecki.

"We were trying to hit all the spots where we thought he might be before he became aware that we were looking for him," said Bilecki.

A warrant for Robbins has been issued in both Illinois and Indiana.

A similar issue occured at the Cook County Jail in 2009 when convicted sex offender Jonathan Cooper, who was serving a 30-year prison sentence in Mississippi for manslaughter, was mistakenly freed after prosecutors here dropped sex-related charges against him. 

In a telephone interview, Robbins' ex-wife, Nicole Robbins, who divorced him in 2008, said she hadn't spoken with or heard from him in a year and a half.

“He was mistakenly released? I haven't heard from him,” she said. “I don't know where he is.”
Robbins was serving time in Indiana State Prison when he was brought to Cook County to appear on a warrant for armed violence and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.

Robbins was arrested at a Day's Inn Motel in Merrillville, Ind., according to an archived story in the Indiana Post-Tribune, after fleeing police. He was convicted of shooting Richard Melton, with whom he'd gotten into an altercation at a party after Melton accompanied his mother to a funeral. Robbins shot Melton in the street at about 1:30 a.m. on Mother's Day, authorities said.

He was sentenced in 2004 to 60 years in prison for murder and carrying a handgun without a license, according to Indiana Department of Correction documents, and was eligible for parole in 2029. Robbins has relatives in Gary and Bloomington, according to the archived story.

Robbins was described as a black male, 5 feet 5 inches tall and 190 pounds, with a tattoo on the right side of his neck that reads “Nicole.” Anyone with information on Robbins' whereabouts is asked to call 708-865-4915.

The Cook County charges had actually been dropped in 2007, but Robbins was still required to appear in court in Illinois to answer for the warrant on those charges, according to court records. He had sought last summer to have the charges dismissed from Indiana, but was denied at the time because he hadn't included a $5 filing fee, documents show.

Tribune reporters David Heinzmann and Jeremy Gorner contributed to this report.
Twitter: @ltaford

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