Watch CBSN Live

Did Jail Mix-Up Set Man Free to Kill 5?

It's unclear why Patrick Burris began his killing spree in a small South Carolina town. But it's also unclear how the 41-year-old career criminal was free after violating parole.

Burris was released on $2,000 bond two weeks before the killings began.

The murders set off a panic in rural Gaffney two weeks ago when five people were fatally shot over six days. A police manhunt ended on July 6 when Burris was killed by officers investigating a burglary complaint at a home in Gastonia, N.C., 30 miles from where the shootings started.

Burris, who had been arrested more than 30 times in North Carolina alone, and also had convictions in Florida, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, was arrested on June 12 for violating his parole, subsequent to his April 29 release from a North Carolina prison.

CBS Affiliate WBTV correspondent Sarah Batista reports that Burris was then let go that very day, two weeks before the killing spree started.

Burris was well-known to authorities - the career criminal had repeated run-ins with police for stealing from homes and businesses and writing bad checks, and authorities said they weren't surprised his crimes escalated.

Police said Burris' reputation as a bully was so intimidating (he was 6'2", 200-250 pounds) that a scared elderly man once refused to testify against him, and extortion charges were subsequently thrown out.

"He always had a violent streak," Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page said. "He was very intimidating and very threatening from his appearance . . . You didn't want to mess with him."

Batista reports that Burris had only been out of jail for two months when he was arrested on June 12 for driving with a revoked license. He was placed in the Lincoln County Jail, and then - despite having violated his parole - was freed on bond.

"I don't know how they can explain that to the family members who lost loved ones," Gaffney resident Tim Blackwell told WBTV.

Lincoln County authorities and officials with the North Carolina Department of Corrections disagree on what happened.

Burris' probation officer Angela Merrill visited his mobile home 10 times in the weeks following his release, and found he had violated curfew five times, the Charlotte Observer reports.

The Observer also reports that on May 27 Burris was cited for speeding and driving with a revoked license, and received another citation four days later.

Merrill filed a report with the state's Parole Commission, and swore out an arrest warrant. She had him arrested on June 12 when Burris drove to her office with a revoked license.

Merrill told investigators she called the jail on June 12 to put a hold on him, but was told he'd already been freed on a $2,000 bond.

Jail officials said that's not true - that the parole officer never called.

A N.C. DOC representative told WBTV Sunday there is no reason to believe the parole officer did anything wrong, and that the DOC will continue its investigation.

South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd, a former judge and federal prosecutor, said more should be done to keep habitual offenders like Burris behind bars.

"At some point, either prosecutors or judges did not believe that it warranted more time. ... Our entire system has really got to get serious about how we deal with these types of offenders," Lloyd said.

Sheriff Page said authorities did everything they could.

"Every officer along the way did his job," he said. "But we have 37,000 prisoners committed to prison in North Carolina and when those prisons get full, our jails start backing up. I run a jail. I know they can't put everyone in jail. They have alternative programs to incarceration. But there are some that just need to be in jail - and this is one who just needed to be in jail."

Life for residents of Gaffney is slowly coming back to normal. But the possibility of a jail mix-up precipitating the murders of five people is painful for those who knew the victims.

"It's hard enough losing a loved one, especially when that someone was not supposed to be around," Tim Blackwell told WBTV.

View CBS News In