Hours After Being Released Due to COVID Fears, Former Inmate Murders Man: Police


The humane nature of releasing someone from jail because of COVID-19 concerns assumes they won’t commit another crime. In the case of Joseph Edward Williams, that alleged crime involves taking someone’s life.

According to the Hillsborough County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office, the 26-year-old Williams murdered someone after he was let out of custody on March 19.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Williams was one of 164 county jail inmates “accused of low-level, non-violent crimes” who were released that day. He was considered a low-level offender due to the fact that he was in on drug charges.

“Williams was booked into Orient Road Jail on March 13 for possession of heroin (less than four grams), a third-degree felony, and possession drug paraphernalia, a first-degree misdemeanor,” the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

“Williams was one of more than 100 inmates released from custody until trial on March 19 following the issuance of Administrative Order 2020-018. The order was drafted in an effort to lower the risk of the spread of COVID-19 within the Hillsborough County detention facilities and to protect the inmates, deputies and civilian staff working within the jails.”

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He was back pretty quickly — although not quickly enough, given the fact he allegedly killed an individual the day after he got out of prison.

According to the sheriff’s office, Williams was the triggerman in a March 20 killing in Progress Village, a 20-minute drive southeast of Tampa. He was arrested on Monday.

“Williams was issued a bond of $2,500 for the drug charges and was eligible for release prior to the administrative order. He is currently back in jail on a no bond status,” the news release said.

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister — best known at the moment as the lawman who’s “suspicious” that “Tiger King” star Carole Baskin killed her husband — was also unhappy that Williams had been let out of prison.

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“There is no question Joseph Williams took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes while he was out of jail awaiting resolution of a low-level, non-violent offense,” Chronister said in a statement.

“As a result, I call on the State Attorney to prosecute this defendant to the fullest extent of the law. Every murder, every violent crime, especially those involving a gun, is a sickening example of the worst in our community, especially at a time when our community is working relentlessly to fight against the spread of this deadly COVID-19.

“Judges, prosecutors, and Sheriffs around the country are facing difficult decisions during this health crisis with respect to balancing public health and public safety. Sheriffs in Florida and throughout our country have released non-violent, low-level offenders to protect our deputies and the jail population from an outbreak.

“Our commitment as an agency is to keep this community safe and enforce the law.”

If that were the case, releasing Williams might not have been the best idea in the first place.

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Yes, he’d been booked for a nonviolent crime. However, he had a past criminal record that might have caused other officials some pause.

According to the news release, Williams “was previously convicted of two felony offenses including burglary of an unoccupied conveyance in 2012 and felon in possession of a firearm in 2018, in addition to five misdemeanor convictions. Throughout the course of his criminal history, Williams has been arrested for 35 charges in total.”

He now faces charges of second-degree murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm, resisting an officer with violence, possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Jails have been releasing as many prisoners as possible in light of the coronavirus pandemic and how easily it spreads behind bars. This isn’t to necessarily question this practice; even Attorney General William Barr, not known to be soft on crime, has been pushing to get low-risk individuals out of the federal system.

But that wasn’t enough for congressional Democrats.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York and California Rep. Karen Bass sent a letter to Barr saying that they “urge that you use every tool at your disposal to release as many prisoners as possible, to protect them from COVID-19.”

To do this, they urged Barr not to include the prisoners’ risk assessment scores and also wondered why he was only considering prisoners from low- and minimum-security prisons.

If this is what some are seriously advocating regarding our federal prisons, you can imagine what’s going on at the county level.

Yes, I understand the humanitarian goals here, and I don’t wish COVID-19 upon any prisoners.

That said, the vast majority of them aren’t behind bars because they got railroaded. There has to be a balance between maintaining public safety and preventing COVID-19 deaths, and one that errs heavily on the side of public safety.

Unfortunately, I can’t see a situation in which Joseph Edward Williams is the last man charged with a serious felony — or even murder — after being let out for COVID-19-related reasons.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture