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Judge frees kidnapping suspect by mistake

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Kanawha County judge inadvertently released from jail a man accused of kidnapping after she mistakenly issued an order last month that dismissed his case.

Circuit Judge Carrie Webster said she was trying to clear her docket of cases she believed were inactive when she accidentally issued an order that dismissed a felony attempted-kidnapping charge against Jeremy Carter.

Carter, an apparent drifter from Tennessee, was arrested last year after he tried to take a child from a vehicle near the mound in South Charleston, police said. He believed the child was his own, according to prosecutors.

He was released from jail Thursday, Webster confirmed.

"I'm very upset," she said. "I own that, is what I mean. It is extraordinarily regretful that it happened, and it shouldn't have happened."

Webster said that, on Feb. 28, she issued about 20 dismissal orders, mostly for circuit court case numbers that she believed were either inactive or moot. In Carter's case, she intended to dismiss an irrelevant motion for a psychiatric evaluation. Prosecutors told her this week that she actually dropped the entire case, and that Carter had been released from the South Central Regional Jail.

The judge said that when she learned of the mistake, she immediately issued a warrant to have Carter rearrested and met with law enforcement to rectify the situation.

Webster said Carter called the Circuit Clerk's Office on Friday and volunteered to turn himself in.

A worker in the office told the Saturday Gazette-Mail that Carter called from a blocked number. It was not clear as of Friday evening if he has been taken into custody again.

"I have done every single thing I can to quickly remedy it, and this is an experience of learning that sometimes your orders say more than you're intending for them to say," Webster said. "It was never my intent to dismiss those felony numbers."

Webster also accidentally dismissed a case involving Gary Wayne Mullins, who was tried, convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for kidnapping and bullying an elderly man out of thousands of dollars.

She said she intended to dismiss only certain charges attached to the case. Instead, the order included the entire criminal action.

Mullins has not been released from prison. It's not clear that the dismissal order would have affected him because the case had already been closed, Webster said.

Webster said that since she learned of the error in the Carter case, she went through the other dismissal orders to make sure she did not release anyone else from custody. Two courthouse staffers in Kanawha County confirmed that no one else has been released, she said.

Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants said his office did not receive notice of any hearings in the cases and "was not aware of any legal reason for them to be dismissed."

Plants said he has not reviewed all of the dismissal orders yet, but said his office is concerned about the Carter case.

Carter has family in Tennessee, but it is not clear where he actually lives, said Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor Ken Starcher.

"I was shocked, to be honest," Webster said, referring to the botched dismissal orders. "It does bother me because the judge is the only one who has the authority to put a person in jail and to let him out. It's one of the most powerful things that anybody can ever have."

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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