Murderer Released in Secretive Deal Is Recaptured After Months on the Run

The manhunt for a convicted murderer who left a South Carolina prison under puzzling circumstances pressed on for more than two months with few developments. The reward for his capture kept growing, climbing to $60,000, as the authorities made repeated pleas for help. He was dangerous, they warned, and he could be anywhere.

Finally, in recent days, investigators received a promising tip: Their fugitive, Jeriod Price, was in New York. And on Wednesday, the authorities said, he was arrested at an apartment in the Bronx.

“Jeriod Price is no longer a wanted man,” Alan Wilson, the South Carolina attorney general, announced at a news conference. Mr. Price, who had served only 19 years of a 35-year prison sentence for a 2002 murder was back in custody, he said: “He will be returning to 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 provoked intense scrutiny from law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and top elected officials in South Carolina, including Gov. Henry McMaster, who described the situation as “seemingly contrary to law and obviously at odds with common sense.”

A challenge to Mr. Price’s release reached the State Supreme Court, where justices also questioned the validity of the order and ultimately overturned it, effectively turning Mr. Price into a fugitive after he did not turn himself in.

Todd Rutherford, Mr. Price’s lawyer, has argued that the judge’s order was justified because Mr. Price had provided crucial help to prison officials that protected corrections officers from attacks and alerted them to an inmate’s escape.

He said the stealth nature of the order was meant to protect Mr. Price — who he believed was in grave danger because of the information he shared — rather than to hide a dubious judicial process.

“It is good to know Jeriod Price is safe from those outside who seek to do him harm,” Mr. Rutherford said in a text message on Wednesday. “Now, he has to worry about those in government who continue to heap harm on him.”

Todd Rutherford, Mr. Price’s lawyer, speaking to reporters in April.Credit…Jeffrey Collins/Associated Press

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 would provide him with additional protection once he was back in South Carolina, including by placing him in a single-person cell and restricting his movement. “We’ll take precautions to make sure he’s protected,” Bryan P. Stirling, director of the state corrections department, told reporters on Wednesday.

The manhunt began after the South Carolina high court demanded Mr. Price’s return to custody on April 26. He had gotten a driver’s license listing an address in Florence, S.C., after his release on March 15, though he did not 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’s Department of Corrections. A person in South Carolina said that Mr. Price was in New York. Federal agents and New York police officers started surveilling an apartment in the Bronx and confirmed that he was there.

Mr. Price was arrested on Wednesday morning with “no force needed,” Mr. Wilson, the attorney general, said.

The reward, which adds up to $60,000 with funds from various state and federal law enforcement agencies, will be paid out, officials said.

Mr. Price, 43, had been sentenced in 2003 to 35 years in prison for the killing of Carl Smalls Jr., a college football player, at a nightclub in Columbia, the state capital. The police said that 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 relayed by Mr. Wilson, Carl Smalls Sr., the victim’s father, expressed relief on Wednesday. “This just underscores our faith in the law enforcement community,” Mr. Wilson told reporters, repeating what the elder Mr. Smalls had told him in a phone conversation.

The family had said that Mr. Price’s release was a painful surprise. Relatives were alerted on the day of his release that he would soon be freed, 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 selects 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 part in determining which judicial candidates can advance in the process.

Mr. Rutherford has 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 corrections officials, “and his reward has been to have his life endangered by people seeking political gain.”

But Mr. Wilson said that the larger conversation around Mr. Price’s release and the judicial system more broadly would continue. “We want a system that is transparent and that people can have faith in,” he said.

“In this particular case,” he went on, “the day was won. Mr. Price is apprehended. He’s going back to prison. The Smalls family is happy.”

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