A man serving a lengthy sentence for the 2015 killing of a man on a street in upstate New York was freed earlier this month on a technicality — he was accidentally put into the wrong prison, a violation of a federal law regarding the transfer of detainees. 

Terrence Lewis’ conviction for the killing of Johnny Washington in a drive-by shooting was vacated Feb. 5, and he was released from the Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Romulus, New York, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said. 

Washington, 29, was gunned down in Rochester on May 26, 2015. He was shot multiple times in the torso and died at a hospital, the Democrat & Chronicle reported. 

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Lewis’ release came after New York Judge Stephen Miller wrote in his decision that law enforcement had violated the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Law, a 1970 federal law that says a prisoner charged with an unrelated crime in another jurisdiction must be held and tried in that jurisdiction before being returned to the place of their original imprisonment.

If they are, the case in the other jurisdiction must be dismissed. The law, passed by Congress, is meant to encourage the expeditious disposition of outstanding charges against a prisoner. 

Monroe County Sheriff Todd K. Baxter apologized to Washington’s family and vowed to make sure such a violation never occurs again. Lewis, 31, had been serving a 22 years-to-life sentence. 

“To the family and friends of Mr. Johnny Washington, there are no words to take away the pain you are justly feeling that undoubtedly comes with the lack of fairness being served based on this decision, which violates the principles of justice,” he said in a statement released by the sheriff’s office. “I extend my sincere apology.”

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Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter

Lewis was already serving time in a federal prison in Pennsylvania for unrelated crimes when he was indicted in November 2017 for Washington’s slaying. In January 2018, he was brought to Monroe County jail in New York and arraigned on second-degree murder, the sheriff’s office said.

In May 2018, Lewis was returned to federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, while his murder charge in New York was still pending. The sheriff’s office said it was adhering to its “traditional practice” to return inmates to their “home” correctional facility.

However, under federal law, Lewis should have remained in New York until his murder case played out. His trip back to Pennsylvania violated the law, Miller, the judge, determined. 

“Unfortunately, any deviation from the IAD [Interstate Agreement on Detainers] law is subject to strict consequences; having a conviction vacated,” the sheriff’s office said. “No legal argument was ever raised before, during or after the trial about the transfer.”

Monroe County jail

In July 2018, Lewis was returned to New York for his murder trial where he was convicted. He was subsequently sentenced to 22 years-to-life in state prison in October of that year. Two months later, he was returned to federal custody in Pennsylvania to serve out the rest of his federal sentence. 

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Lewis was returned to Monroe County in August 2020 where he awaited transfer to New York corrections officials. In October of that year, he began serving his murder sentence. 

The sheriff’s office said it has conducted an audit of its jail to determine whether any inmates dating back to 2018 are subject to the IAD law. None were. 

The agency said it’s also reviewing its transfer procedures and will train staff about the federal law. 

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