Friday, December 03, 1999

Inmate who killed girlfriend ineligible for furlough

Victim's family outraged

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — A series of breakdowns in a system that is supposed to protect the public led to the release of a Lebanon man who killed the ex-girlfriend he had been jailed for threatening.

        William Hugh Chapman, 43, should not have been eligible for a holiday furlough from the Warren County Justice Center, according to the county's own policies.

        And when the two-time convicted felon failed to report back to jail at 7 p.m. Nov. 25 as ordered — and even after he threatened to kill Suzie Thompson two days later — there was little effort to find him.

        Within days, the South Lebanon mother of three was shot to death in her own bedroom. Moments later, Mr. Chapman turned the gun on himself.

        Court officials said Judge Dallas Powers of Warren County Court ordered Mr. Chapman released, along with six other inmates, on Nov. 24. A total of 14 inmates were released by the court system in Warren County for Thanksgiving.

        Judge Powers was not aware that Mr. Chapman was also being held on a parole violation since Oct. 20, Chief Probation Officer Dick Kilburn said.

        That would have disqualified the inmate from the mass one-day furlough that is typical of the holidays at the Warren County Justice Center, Mr. Kilburn said. Judge Powers was vacationing in Florida and could not be reached for comment Thursday.

        Even though jail officials knew Mr. Chapman had a “holder” from the parole authority and should stay in jail, they failed to question the furlough, Sheriff Tom Ariss said Thursday.

        “The bottom line was nobody thought it was their re sponsibility to question the court order. The order was to release him on a furlough. Our intent is to comply with a court order,” he said.

        Parole authorities contend the holder should have kept Mr. Chapman in jail. He was arrested and charged with violating his parole Oct. 20 after his parole officer discovered that Ms. Thompson had filed telephone harassment charges against Mr. Chapman two days earlier.

        Ms. Thompson, 42, accused Mr. Chapman of calling her residence 30 times on Oct. 16, 17 and 18, after the couple broke up that month, court records show.

        “We don't expect them to be released. We expected that individual to be held for whatever transpires,” said Kent Slough, local supervisor for the Ohio Adult Parole Authority. He declined to comment further.

        Ms. Thompson's family members said they are outraged that a parole violator who had been in and out of prison on domestic violence and weapons charges since 1993 was allowed out of jail on a furlough. Moreover, they are angry that Ms. Thompson was not protected by a temporary restraining order and that, apparently, no official warning was given to her that her ex-boyfriend was free.

        “With the violent record he had, there is no way Chapman should have been released,” said Ms. Thompson's brother Jean-Jacques Desfosses.

        “Something went wrong. The system needs correcting and they (Warren County jail officials) owe those three kids at the very least an explanation,” Mr. Desfosses said of his sister's two adult sons and teen-age boy.

        One 18-year-old son was asleep in the home when the shootings occurred about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

        Sheriff Ariss said deputies attempted to contact Mr. Chapman at phone numbers on his jail booking slip last Friday when he did not return to jail. They filed an escape charge against Mr. Chapman on Tuesday because the courts were closed due to the Thanksgiving holiday and the weekend.

        Mr. Desfosses said his sister tried to protect herself in the days leading up to her death.

        He said she recorded numerous threatening phone calls from Mr. Chapman, wrote out excerpts and presented them to Warren County jail officials last weekend. She wanted officials to track down the escaped prisoner and protect her and her family, Mr. Desfosses said.

        However, jail officials first contended that Mr. Chapman could not be threatening her, the brother said. They said he was in jail.

        Ms. Thompson persisted, arguing with them and prompting them to check their records, he said. Only then did they discover that Mr. Chapman had not returned.

        “She told me they apologized, but nobody warned her before that that he was loose,” Mr. Desfosses said. Mr. Chapman's own sister tipped off Ms. Thompson that her ex-boyfriend was on the lam, Mr. Desfosses said.

        On Monday, Ms. Thompson spent hours at the court clerk's office filing aggravated menacing charges against Mr. Chapman and attempting to obtain a temporary restraining order that would keep him away from her.

        The charges involved five phone calls Ms. Thompson recorded from Mr. Chapman on Saturday, court records show.

        Her notes indicate Mr. Chapman twice had threatened to kill her. Ms. Thompson wrote that he warned her: “I have dug my own grave. And that I would understand it in the near future.”

        Unlike Warren County, jailers in other counties in the Tristate don't permit holiday furloughs.

        “We've never done holiday furloughs,” said Boone County Jailer John Schickel. “We don't even let court-ordered work-release prisoners out on holidays.”


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