Convicted murderer mistakenly released from Cook County Jail

An Indiana man convicted of murder has been on the loose since Wednesday night after Cook County Jail officials mistakenly released him, authorities said.

The sheriff's office confirmed that Steven Robbins, 44, was released after appearing in Cook County court on armed violence and drug charges, and the charges were dismissed.

But the office didn't alert the public that Robbins, who was convicted of a 2002 fatal shooting a Kentucky man, was on the loose until Thursday evening.

Robbins spent the night in the Cook County Jail on Tuesday to attend a court date Wednesday on a warrant for a 1992 criminal case, in which he was charged with armed violence — committing a felony while using a gun, said Frank Bilecki, a spokesman for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

After attending the court hearing, Robbins was released at 7 p.m. Wednesday because there was no indication in his jail paperwork that he was ordered to remain in custody, Bilecki said. Robbins left through the jail's main entrance.

On Thursday, the Cook County fugitive warrant unit called the jail to make arrangements to send Robbins back to an Indiana prison. Jail staff realized that Robbins was gone.

The sheriff's office and other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service, were notified.

Authorities didn't want Robbins to immediately know that they were on to him, which is why the public wasn't told right away, Bilecki said.

"We were trying to hit all the spots where we thought he might be before he became aware that we were looking for him," he said.

A warrant for Robbins has been issued in Illinois and Indiana.

In a telephone interview, Robbins' ex-wife, Nicole Robbins, who divorced him in 2008, said she hadn't spoken with or heard from him in a year and a half.

"He was mistakenly released? I haven't heard from him," she said. "I don't know where he is."

Steven Robbins was serving time in Indiana State Prison when he was brought to Cook County to appear on the warrant.

In 2002, Robbins was arrested at a Day's Inn in Merrillville, Ind., according to an archived story in the Merrillville Post-Tribune. He was convicted of shooting Richard Melton, 24, with whom he'd gotten into a fight at a party. Robbins shot Melton on Mother's Day, authorities said.

He was sentenced in 2004 to 60 years in prison for murder and carrying a handgun without a license, according to Indiana Department of Correction documents. He was eligible for parole in 2029. Robbins has relatives in Gary and Bloomington, according to the archived story.

Robbins was described as black, 5 feet 5 inches tall and 190 pounds, with a tattoo on the right side of his neck that reads "Nicole." Anyone with information on Robbins' whereabouts is asked to call 708-865-4915.

The Cook County charges had actually been dropped in 2007, but Robbins was still required to appear in court in Illinois to answer for the warrant on those charges, court records show.

Tribune reporters David Heinzmann and Jeremy Gorner contributed.

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