A Florida sheriff called New Jersey’s early release of a convicted murderer shameful after his deputies arrested the man Tuesday in connection with a new murder – less than two years after he was turned out of prison.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd sounded off on video the department released Wednesday about the arrest of 51-year-old James Lewis on a New Jersey warrant for murder, kidnapping, carjacking, and weapons charges.
"I want to ask the state of New Jersey, how did that work for you, letting him out early?" Judd asked.
Lewis allegedly shot and killed a man on Sept. 18 in East Orange, New Jersey, during a carjacking. Essex County prosecutors said he then zip-tied the victim’s girlfriend and stole the vehicle with her still inside before crashing a short time later.
Lewis apparently fled to Florida, where the sheriff's office said he was taken into custody without incident at a home in Winter Haven. Investigators obtained a search warrant and discovered evidence linked to the East Orange case inside the home.
"If he had still been in prison from his original murder, then the other person that was murdered would still be alive," Judd said. "You didn’t help the safety and security of New Jersey by letting this guy out."
Lewis was previously convicted in 1989 on charges of homicide, robbery and possession of a weapon, serving 30 years of a 40-year prison sentence before his release in 2019, the sheriff’s office said.
"I’m mad at everyone who turns murderers out early, turns criminals out early," Judd said. "I am over hearing people say, ‘Oh, we keep people housed too long.’ If you don’t keep prolific criminals and murderers locked up, they’re going to go back in the neighborhood and murder and victimize innocent people, whether it's in New Jersey, Florida, or any other state."
Judd told the state of New Jersey to talk to the victim’s family and ask them if it was a good idea to grant early release to Lewis, whom he called a "cold-blooded, vicious, evil murderer."
"The reality of it is, shame on you for turning James Lewis out early on a murder charge," the sheriff said, referring to the Garden State.
Judd said that he hopes New Jersey will learn from its "mistake" in releasing Lewis early and keep him locked up for the rest of his life.
"Because if you don't," Judd said, "let me give you a news flash: he’ll murder again because that’s who he is."
Recent pushes for criminal justice reform and concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic have helped lead to the early release of some inmates.
In August, another inmate serving time in New Jersey for burglary was freed early to parole supervision on "public health emergency credits" due to the coronavirus pandemic. He was charged with murdering a teenager just two days after his release.
Earlier this year in California, the state gave 76,000 inmates, including violent and repeat felons, the opportunity to shorten their prison sentences by granting credits for good behavior.
Last month in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered the immediate release of 191 inmates who were behind bars on Rikers Island for what she called "technical" violations of their parole.
Within three weeks of Hochul's action, at least nine of those released inmates have been rearrested, the New York Post reported.