Wednesday, April 05, 2000

Faux fax fails to free Ohio strangler

Fake court order doesn't fool prison officials

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Someone tried to break Raymond Akins out of prison Tuesday with a fax machine, a typewriter and a little creativity.

        The escape attempt began in the morning, when a court document marked “URGENT” arrived at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Richard Niehaus
        The document declared that Mr. Akins should be immediately released because his conviction for strangling his girlfriend was a mistake.

        The paperwork carried the signatures of a judge, a prosecutor and a defense attorney.

        The names were real, but the signatures were phony.

        “I've never seen anything like it before,” said Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen. “This guy gets the award for gumption.”

        When prison officials received the document via fax, they checked Mr. Akins' case and found the names, dates and case numbers were correct.

        It also had what appeared to be an official time stamp from the county clerk's office.

        But when authorities called the judge to verify the order, they learned the truth.

        “It's a fake,” said Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus, who sentenced Mr. Akins to 15 years in prison. “It's pretty interesting, but it's not the real thing.”

        Judge Niehaus sentenced Mr. Akins in February on charges of involuntary manslaughter and theft of a motor vehicle.

        Prosecutors say Mr. Akins, 26, strangled Laquitta Elliot in October 1998. He was arrested in Georgia a few weeks after police found the 24-year-old woman's decomposed body in her Bond Hill apartment.

        The judge said the court document looks as though it is a doctored version of a real legal brief. The time stamp, the clerk's signature and the case caption appear to be lifted from actual court papers.

        If prison officials had not been paying attention, the judge said, Mr. Akins might have slipped through the system.

        Prison spokeswoman Andrea Dean said the forged document raised a few eyebrows right away.

        For one thing, the “judge's order” seemed to have an urgent tone lacking in most court filings.

        “This court finds that there were many infringements of Mr. Akins' rights,” the order stated. “Mr. Akins is to be immediately released ... upon receipt of this notice.”

        Ms. Dean said prison officials also were suspicious of the hand-written note in bold ink at the top of the document: “(URGENT) LATE ENTRY FILE!”

        Mr. Akins is housed at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, Ohio, and does not have access to fax machines.

        Mr. Allen said his office and the Ohio State Highway Patrol will investigate the case.


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