Darrion White

Darrion White at his arraignment in May 2019.

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URBANA — Local authorities are marshaling resources to find an accused murderer who was released from custody a week ago due to an administrative error.

“We are owning the mistake,” Champaign County Sheriff Dustin Heuerman said of the release of Darrion White.

The 20-year-old Champaign man is charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 28, 2018, fatal shooting of David Sankey, 16, in the 600 block of Crescent Drive in Champaign.

White was arrested eight months later and had been in custody since May 2, 2019.

On Nov. 13, he was released from Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet on an unrelated weapons case to which he had pleaded guilty in October.

Because he had already served 572 days by the time he pleaded guilty to possession of a gun without a FOID card, his three-year prison sentence was considered fulfilled by the Department of Corrections because he qualified for day-for-day good time.

He arrived at Stateville on Nov. 13, and was released later that day after prison officials processed him.

White’s attorney, Alfred Ivy, said White “directly inquired” about the murder case before he was released and “they told him there was nothing there.”

“The folks at Stateville went and checked and said, ‘You’re all good,’” Ivy told The News-Gazette. “His thought, until I spoke with him, is that all the charges had been dropped. That’s the part that isn’t communicated clearly. He thought the case was over with.”

Heuerman said one of his employees had neglected to alert the Department of Corrections that a “detainer” should have been placed on White so that he would be returned to Urbana on the pending murder case when he was released on his other case.

Because of COVID-19, Heuerman said, the department has not been accepting inmates sentenced to prison in the same way it has in the past.

“Now we have to schedule when each inmate is transferred,” he said. “It used to be once a week that we automatically took the inmates. It’s not weekly anymore.”

For that reason, his office maintains two lists: one of inmates who have been sentenced to prison but not yet transferred there and a second of those the Department of Corrections has approved for transfer.

The sheriff said there was a miscommunication among his staff between the time White was on the former and latter lists that resulted in a failure of his staff to add the detainer, which needs to be done only when the inmate physically goes to the Department of Corrections.

“This is the first time this has occurred and we have modified our processes to help mitigate the likelihood of it happening again,” Heuerman said. “We have learned that an email thread that is pages long is not the best way to keep track of everything. We do detainers all the time. This happened to turn out poorly.”

Meanwhile, Ivy said he’s just hopeful that his client will turn himself in with him present so that nothing bad happens to him since there are many law-enforcement representatives looking for him.

A new warrant for White’s arrest was issued Monday by Judge Roger Webber, who is assigned to hear the murder case. On Tuesday, Ivy appeared at the monthly pretrial call in Webber’s courtroom and told the judge he had heard from White and that White intended to turn himself in.

As of Friday morning, that hadn’t happened.

Ivy said White knows of the warrant because he told him about it when they spoke earlier in the week.

“The conversation … was that he was going to turn himself in. The question wasn’t about whether. The question was about when,” Ivy said, adding he explained to White that “the safest way to turn yourself in is to come into court with me. If you are with me, there will not be a violent response. I wanted to make sure he stayed safe.”

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

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