Convicted New York killer freed on a technicality: Judge says he was held at the wrong prison

Feb 14, 2024, 8:37 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — A man convicted for a 2015 killing in western New York has been freed and his indictment has been dismissed solely because he was held at the wrong prison according to an interstate law on detainees, a state judge has ruled.

Terrence Lewis was released earlier this month from a maximum-security prison in Seneca County, where he was serving a sentence of 22 years to life for second-degree murder, the Democrat and Chronicle reported Wednesday. A jury convicted him in 2018 in the drive-by fatal shooting of 29-year-old Johnny Washington in Rochester.

Judge Stephen Miller wrote in a Feb. 5 decision that Monroe County officials violated the federal Interstate Agreement on Detainer’s Law, or the IAD, when they sent him back to a federal prison in Pennsylvania, where he was serving a sentence for a drug conviction, as he awaited trial in the New York murder case after his indictment.

The agreement, approved by Congress in 1970, says a prisoner charged with an unrelated crime in another jurisdiction must be held and tried in that jurisdiction before being returned to the place of their original imprisonment, or else the case in the other jurisdiction must be dismissed.

“The harsh reality is that despite a jury of 12 members of our community determining, after hearing all of the evidence set before them, that defendant is guilty of the murder of Johnny C. Washington, this administrative jail decision made based on jail population and timing, not the law, unequivocally entitles defendant to dismissal of the murder in the second degree indictment with prejudice under the exacting requirements of the anti-shuttling provisions of the IAD,” Miller wrote.

The dismissal “with prejudice” means that Lewis cannot be retried in the murder case, the district attorney’s office said.

Lewis was arraigned on the murder charge in January 2018 and was detained in Monroe County for five months, according to the county sheriff’s office. In May of that year, Lewis was returned to the Pennsylvania federal prison. The sheriff’s office said it was “a traditional practice” to return prisoners to their “home” correctional facility.

Miller wrote that a document created by the sheriff’s office indicated Lewis was being returned to Pennsylvania under a court order, but no such order existed. In July 2018, Lewis was brought back to Monroe County for the murder trial.

Lewis’ appellate lawyer later a filed a motion to vacate the murder conviction based on a violation of the interstate agreement law, leading to Miller’s ruling.

Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter apologized to Washington’s family and friends, and vowed to make sure such a violation never happens again.

“To the family and friends of Mr. Johnny Washington, there are no words to take away the pain you are justly feeling that undoubtedly comes with the lack of fairness being served based on this decision, which violates the principles of justice,” Baxter said in a statement. ”I extend my sincere apology.”

A spokesperson for Baxter, Amy Young, said no argument had ever been raised before about Lewis’ transfer back to federal prison after the state murder indictment.

The sheriff’s office said it has reviewed its detainee transfer procedures, provided training to staff on transfers and audited any previous transfers that may have involved the interstate agreement dating back to 2018. The audit showed there were no other prisoners whose cases involved the agreement.

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Convicted New York killer freed on a technicality: Judge says he was held at the wrong prison