Florida inmate freed amid coronavirus concerns murdered man one day after release, deputies say

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Joseph Edward Williams (Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – An inmate who was released from a Florida jail in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus is back behind bars and accused of committing second-degree murder the day after he got out, deputies say.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office confirms 26-year-old Joseph Edwards Williams was arrested on a warrant Monday night in Gibsonton.

They say he is connected to a March 20 shooting homicide in the Progress Village area. Deputies responded at 10:40 that night to several 911 calls about gunshots fired near 81st Street South and Ash Avenue. A man was pronounced dead at the scene.

Online jail records show Williams had been released from custody at 8:02 a.m. on Thursday, March 19 per an administrative order aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the county jails. The sheriff’s office says he was one of more than 100 inmates released from custody until trial.

“There is no question Joseph Williams took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes while he was out of jail awaiting resolution of a low-level, non-violent offense,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement. “As a result, I call on the State Attorney to prosecute this defendant to the fullest extent of the law.”

The HCSO released 164 inmates considered low level and non-violent offenders.

“Judges, prosecutors, and Sheriffs around the country are facing difficult decisions during this health crisis with respect to balancing public health and public safety,” Chronister said. “Sheriffs in Florida and throughout our country have released non-violent, low-level offenders to protect our deputies and the jail population from an outbreak. Our commitment as an agency is to keep this community safe and enforce the law.”

Williams appeared Tuesday afternoon in video court for his new charges: second degree murder with a firearm, a gun charge and resisting an officer.

Deputies arrested Williams on March 13 for possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia.

After his court appearance, he is now being held in jail with a combined bond of more than $250,000.

“Every murder, every violent crime, especially those involving a gun, is a sickening example of the worst in our community, especially at a time when our community is working relentlessly to fight against the spread of this deadly COVID-19,” Chronister said.

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