The Investigators: Technical glitch leads to convicted killer's release from prison

Technical glitch leads to convicted killer's release from prison - 6 p.m. coverage
Benjuiel Johnson (Source: Louisiana Department of Corrections)
Benjuiel Johnson (Source: Louisiana Department of Corrections)

PLAQUEMINE, LA (WAFB) - A warrant for arrest has been issued for a convicted killer who was accidentally released from prison following miscommunication and missing paperwork on the part of the Louisiana Department of Correction.

Deputies with the Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office, Plaquemine Police Department and the US Marshals are searching for 32-year-old Benjuiel Johnson. He was released on September 23, 2015 from the Dixon Correctional Institute. Officials noticed the error on Monday, September 28, 2015.

"We're not trying to make excuses, it's something that should not have happened," said Pam Laborde, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Correction.

According to officials with the Department of Corrections, early indications show Johnson was getting released from Dixon on good behavior for prior charges. When they ran his name in the system, the manslaughter conviction did not appear, so they let him go. Johnson, however, had an outstanding charge for battery of a correctional officer.

After being released from Dixon, Johnson was picked up and booked into the East Feliciana Parish detention center and processed for the battery charge. A $10,000 bond was issued. Johnson posted bond and was released from prison.

"On the rap sheet, there was information on there that should have prompted the records staff at DCI who was working on his case to at least call Iberville and say 'hey I see something on it, I'm not sure what's going on, I don't have any paperwork on a conviction, but there may be something here, can you tell me what it's about?" Laborde said.

Laborde said the person responsible for the mistakes at the Dixon facility will face disciplinary action.

Johnson pleaded guilty to manslaughter and illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in 2013. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the manslaughter charge and 5 years for the illegal possession of a firearm charge.

Individuals involved in Johnson's arrest and conviction said they were frustrated by Tuesday's news.

"I'm shocked. I'm concerned," said Tony Clayton, a special prosecutor who assisted in Johnson's conviction in 2013. "He's a dangerous person, but we're going to get him, we're going to catch him. If he's a smart man, which he probably isn't, he should probably turn himself in and if not - we're going to use every resource available to take him off the streets."

"It's frustrating," said Kenny Payne, the chief of the Plaquemine Police Department who was involved in Johnson's arrest. "You know mistakes happen. I know I would be extremely perturbed at my department had anyone in my department done something like that."

For Johnson's family, the past few days have been a dream turned nightmare.

"We're thinking, this is a gift from god, that he get out early," said Johnson's mother, Francel, who helped bond him out of jail.

Since discovering his mistaken release, law enforcement have questioned Johnson's family members in hopes of finding where he is. His mother's greatest fear, she said, is that they kill him if they find him.

"It's not his fault, it's not his fault. He got released," Johnson said. "You told him he was no longer your property, he bonded out, and now you're hunting him like a dog, like he escaped from prison or something. But no he didn't escape. You let him go. You all opened the doors and let him out of there."

The Department of Corrections has reached out to the family of the victim of the 2010 shooting to apologize for the mistaken release.

Cordies Gales, 31, was found shot to death in September 2010. Gales flew into Plaquemine from Chicago to visit his sick grandmother.

Police said Gales was out partying Saturday night and into Sunday morning. He got into a fight around 3 a.m., police added. His body was found about 100 yards away from where the fight happened on Allen Street.

Johnson and another man were both arrested in connection to the case.

If you see Johnson, you are urged to call 911 immediately.

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