Murder defendant mistakenly released from jail

|71395|

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER and AUDREY McAVOY

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Big Island authorities were searching for a man charged with murder who was mistakenly released from jail while awaiting trial, the state Department of Public Safety said Thursday.

Brian Lee Smith was being held on $1.15 million bail but was mistakenly released from a jail on Hawaii island Tuesday. The department announced his mistaken release Thursday. A $2 million warrant was issued for his arrest.

The department is investigating circumstances surrounding the mistake. “At this point there is nothing more we can say about the matter until the investigation is completed,” department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said.

Smith was charged with murder in the June shooting death of 42-year-old Thomas Ballesteros Jr. in south Kona. Police said at the time they believed Smith and Ballesteros were acquaintances.

Authorities describe 49-year-old Smith as 5 foot, 7 inches and 130 pounds with gray hair and blue eyes.

Smith’s attorney, Jason Kwiat, said there was a mix-up at Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo “for whatever reason” and they released his client. Kwiat said he was trying to figure out whether the release was valid when Smith was in contact with him.

Prosecutors found out the release was mistaken Thursday morning, Kwiat said, and the court set a hearing for the afternoon to see if Kwiat could get his client there. But Kwiat said he wasn’t able to reach his client in time for the hearing. He said Smith didn’t have prior notice of the hearing.

The court issued an arrest warrant based on the fact that on Wednesday night Smith didn’t sleep at a Captain Cook address he was supposed to be at if he posted bail.

Kwiat said he hadn’t spoken to Smith on Thursday.

“I would certainly advise him to turn himself in,” he said.

Smith pleaded not guilty at an arraignment July 20. Trial was scheduled for November.

During a hearing earlier this month, a prosecutor asked that bail be kept at $1.15 million because Smith is wanted out of Oregon for a parole violation and contempt of court violations in Hawaii, West Hawaii Today reported at the time.

Some community members showed support for Smith during the hearing, including Candi Baker who told the Kailua-Kona newspaper Smith has helped her maintain a 5-acre property with rental homes since December 2014.

“We are obviously concerned,” said Mark Disher, supervising deputy prosecuting attorney in Kona. “Our concern is obviously flight, based on the seriousness of the offenses.”

In May, the state Department of Public Safety released an inmate from a Honolulu jail when he was supposed to be transferred to Hawaii State Hospital. Winston Kailimai was found unfit to stand trial on an assault case. He was located shortly after the department announced authorities were looking for him.