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"Early Release" Felon A Free Man Again

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Chicago man who became a poster child for the state's early prison release program scandal when he threatened a woman a day after getting out of prison early is a free man again.

Derrick King, 49, pleaded guilty to robbery after knocking out Jennifer Hall's teeth outside a Jewel grocery store in August 2008 after asking her for a cigarette. He spent a year in Cook County Jail and then just two weeks in prison before he was paroled under a policy change by the Quinn administration -- the MGT-Push (meritorious good time) program.

The next day -- Oct. 21, 2009 -- King was arrested after threatening a woman he asked for a cigarette in the 500 block of West Roosevelt Road, then bragging to her about the first attack.

King was charged with a misdemeanor for the incident, but was sent back to prison for a parole violation.

Gov. Pat Quinn later admitted it was "a big mistake" to free King, and on Dec. 30, 2009, announced he would reverse the policy which allowed 1,781 inmates to leave prison early between Sept. 16 and Dec. 14, 2009. State Corrections Director Michael Randle resigned shortly afterwards, though Quinn denied he was forced out because of the MGT program.

King, one of 56 inmates returned to prison on new charges after being paroled early under MGT-Push, was freed from prison again on Oct. 20, this time without parole conditions.

"He was discharged from the Pinckneyville Correctional Center and sent back to his father's house," IDOC spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said. Police said the home is in the Far South Side Roseland neighborhood.

"It's not an early release. He was discharged, he finished his sentence. His parole was over. He served it behind bars,'' Elman said.

"He has served every day in the Illinois Department of Corrections that he could have on the parole violation,'' said Cara Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff for the Illinois Attorney's General's Office. "You do what you can, but it's an imperfect process. And when this person violated his parole by committing this new offense, fortunately the department has tools which they utilized and he served another year in prison. Does that mean the community is going to be any safer when he gets out? No. The justice system in this country has its shortcomings,'' she said.

"Certainly you worry when someone with his history is out...," Smith said. The big question is what will he do next. It's just a big question mark whether they'll be back in on a new case. Nobody has a crystal ball. Not the prosecutors, not the police not the Department of Corrections,'' Smith said. "... you hope the sentence was a deterrent and they won't want to go back there [prison]."

In the August 2008 attack near Roosevelt and Wabash, King and Joyce Burgess attacked Hall and her boyfriend, police said. King asked the couple for cigarettes, but when they said they didn't have any, Burgess knocked down Hall, who was celebrating her 36th birthday. King, who police say is homeless, kicked Hall in the face, knocking out 20 teeth.

Retired Chicago Police Sgt. Michael Collins was assigned to the tactical unit at Central District the night of Hall's beating and was one of the first on the scene. He called it one of the "most brutal'' attacks he'd seen in 30 years. He recalled picking up her teeth, which were scattered all over the street, and seeing her "mangled" face as her body lay in the street.

"We didn't think she was going to make it," Collins said. "King threw the girl up against the parking meter and hit her face. There was blood from the top of her head all the way down her chest. I thought she got hit by a car,'' Collins said. "She was just about gone.''

Collins said they nabbed King a few minutes later, but were never called for a trial. "He pleaded to a lesser charge. He should have gotten at least 15 years for that."

Collins said he doesn't think King should be free so soon, especially after threatening the second woman. "He is terrorizing people down there. He should have been doing a lot more time. He should not have been back on the street. He should never have had the chance to plead it out. He was originally charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery. That's a minimum of 15 years and even if he did good time that would be 7 1/2," Collins said.

In the second attack, King threatened a 49-year-old woman after asking her for a cigarette on West Roosevelt. When the woman declined, King said: "Remember the couple who got beat up real bad for not giving a cigarette? That was me!" according to police.

King, who is 6-foot-2 and about 200 pounds, then charged at the woman, police said. She was able to flag down a patrol car and officers arrested King. For that incident, in which he was charged with misdemeanor assault, King was sentenced to 30 days in jail, police said.

The 2008 and 2009 arrests were far from King's first; according to police, he's been arrested about 49 times since 1989. His rap sheet includes convictions for theft, criminal trespass and domestic battery, though he served only a handful of days behind bars -- his longest previous stretch being 120 days for a domestic battery conviction in 2000.

After learning of King's release, police tried to notify both the recent victims, but only found the second one, according to a Chicago Police source familiar with the case. "Our people talked to her and let her know he was out. We were concerned about her,'' the source said.

"I think the victims assumed he was going to be gone for three years. He behaved inside of prison -- it seems to work for him. But he's not on parole. There are no restrictions on where he can go. He could easily encounter his previous victims. If you get parole the state is supposed to contact the victims,'' the source said.

"The bottom line is he got three years and he's out. Could it have been stopped? Is there a flaw in the system? Do you think the system is working? Maybe this happens all the time we just never realize it,'' the source said.

According to the source, it's likely King will return back to the South Loop area he frequented before his incarceration because it is a high-profile area with more money, tourists and residents who might have their guard down.

"A lot of these people that live downtown, they don't except evil to be around. They're just clueless. The students that live down here ...the dog walkers ... they think they're living in a small town. They don't know that there are predators out there. Some people think everybody's nice. You have one person that proved he isn't and he's out,'' the source said.

(The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report)

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