The convicted felon accused of killing two people in a convenience store armed robbery here Aug. 25 was out through an early release program overhauled by Republicans in 2014 to reduce prison overcrowding with reduced sentencing.

The accused man, Robert Leon Johnson, was serving a 15-year sentence on a 2012 attempted armed robbery conviction in Jackson. He was released in January under the state Department of Correction’s Earned Release Supervision program.

Last week, Jackson was charged with the capital murder in the deaths of 27-year-old Megan Staats and 33-year-old Jeremy Apperson at the CEFCO convenience store, 1534 Mississippi 16 west. (See remembrances here.)

The state Parole Board clarified Tuesday it did not release Johnson after it was reported in The Clarion-Ledger that they did.

“We are getting a lot of angry calls and emails from concerned Philadelphia citizens,” said Kathy Henry, a parole board member. “I certainly understand. But we did not release him.”

MDOC operates the Earned Release Supervision (ERS) program and makes decisions on the release of offenders.

Early Release Supervision was enacted by statute in 1995 under Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice and a Democrat-controlled Legislature and amended by House Bill 585 in 2014.

The original statute passed in 1995 required 85 percent of a prison sentence to be completed. HB 585 changed that number to 50 percent for violent offenders and only 25 percent for non-violent offenders.

“This is the worst bill I have ever seen passed since I have been in law enforcement,” Philadelphia Police Chief Grant Myers said. “The goal was to lower the prison population but it just ends up putting more bad guys on the street.”

The Democrat left a message for Grace Fisher, director of public relations at MDOC, but by press time she had not responded.

“The Parole Board plays no part in any release under ERS,” Henry said.

“If the offender is released on ERS, we receive no notification,” she added.

Myers has said Jackson has an extensive criminal background in Hinds County. He has been charged twice with armed robbery, and he appears to have been indicted for murder in 2013.

Myers noted last week the MDOC has found ways to release convicted criminals earlier and earlier from prison. “I feel that if it is a violent crime, they should serve every day of their sentence,” he said then.

Jackson had gone into City Furniture on Bailey Avenue with the intention of robbing the business, but a store employee shot him, WLBT reported in 2010.

“Police say Jackson boldly entered the store displaying a weapon. But a store employee turned then tables on Jackson when he pulled out a gun and fired several shots at the would-be-robber,” the station reported.

Thomas Pou, a Neshoba County man who identifies himself as retired and disabled on his Facebook page, expressed outrage in a post on Sunday.

“Well, I believe that [I] speak for more than myself when I say that I'm OUTRAGED at all this! Yes, I'm outraged at what happened at the CEFCO and I’m outraged at how this senseless act came about! Two of our neighbors, valued and productive citizens of our community were brutally murdered by a piece of scum that by all rights was supposed to still be locked away from society.”

Pou criticized the Democrat for not covering Jackson’s prior convictions, although the story last week included the account of the 2010 armed robbery in Jackson and mentioned the early release program in paragraph four.

“No, the Neshoba Democrat hardly mentioned any of that on its pages. Nor could readers find any outrage over what happened in the accompanying editorial.”

The earned release supervision date is based on an inmate serving a percentage of their sentence, which correlates with applicable laws, according to the MDOC website.

“There are many factors that are considered in calculating an inmate’s ERS date,” according to the site.  “An ERS date does not automatically mean that an inmate will be released on that date.”

For instance, they say, an inmate’s behavior while incarcerated is a critical issue that is reviewed by the classification committee.    

“When an inmate is near his ERS date, he receives a letter from MDOC,” the site says.  “Once the inmate receives this letter, then it is the responsibility of the inmate to provide a residence address where he plans to live while on ERS.”  

They go on: “Once the address is received by MDOC, the address is then given to the correctional field officer that will be handling the inmate’s case. The probation and parole officer inspects the residence, meets with any family members that the inmate will be living with, etc., and ultimately determines if the residence is acceptable for the inmate to live while on ERS.”

Some factors that disqualify inmates for ERS include, but not limited to:

• Inmates sentenced to life imprisonment

• Inmates convicted as a habitual offender

• Inmates who forfeit their earned time allowance by order of the Commissioner

• Inmates who have not served the mandatory time required for parole eligibility for a conviction of robbery or attempted robbery, or carjacking or attempted carjacking with a deadly weapon or drive-by shooting

• Inmates convicted of a sex crime

• Inmates who have escaped or attempted escape from an adult prison

The website goes on to say that any inmate under ERS retains inmate status and remains under the jurisdiction of MDOC.

“An ERS inmate is not allowed to leave the state of Mississippi at any time during his or her ERS.  If an inmate violates any conditions of ERS, the inmate has to serve the remainder of the sentence in a facility.  Any time served on ERS is not applied to the sentence or used to reduce a sentence.

“If an inmate violates any conditions of ERS, the inmate is arrested and returned to MDOC and provided a classification hearing. All inmates arrested and returned from ERS are granted a hearing by a classification committee officer.  If the inmate is found not guilty of the pending charges, the inmate may be returned to the original status on ERS.”  

Pou concluded, “Also, just look at the weekly jail docket in the newspaper, persons charged with serious crimes only to see those same individuals within two or three weeks charged again.

“Just how much longer are we going to have to put up with this nonsense???”