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Big Island murder suspect turns himself in; official apologizes for mistaken release

  • COURTESY HAWAII POLICE DEPARTMENT

    Brian Lee Smith, 49, of Honaunau is being sought by police after he was mistakenly released from jail.

  • STAR-ADVERTISER FILE / May 2015

    Nolan Espinda, director of the Department of Public Safety, apologized today for the mistaken release of a murder suspect on the Big Island Tuesday.

UPDATE: 11:10 a.m.

The Hawaii Department of Public Safety is investigating the erroneous release of a 49-year-old Big Island murder suspect from the Hawaii Community Correctional Center this week.

“The governor has tasked me with personally overseeing the investigation and I will report back to him with all of our findings as we find them,” said an apologetic Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda.

Brian Lee Smith, of Honaunau, was supposed to be detained on $1.15 million bail, but instead was released from the correctional center on Tuesday. He turned himself in late last night to police in Captain Cook. He is being held today at the Kona police cell block in lieu of $2 million bail.

At a news conference held this morning, Espinda apologized to the Hawaii island community for the error.

“On behalf of the Hawaii Community Correctional Center and the Department of Public Safety, I want to express our deepest regrets for the undue duress our error caused the Hawaii island community as it endured this situation caused by our error,” Espinda said. “We regret having add to your misery over the past 24 hours. Please accept our sincere apology.”

Espinda says Smith was released from a Big Island jail Tuesday but officials didn’t realize it was a mistake until Thursday morning. He says it took hours to issue a news release because officials were trying to figure out what happened.

Espinda says the jail staff who released Smith believed at the time they were doing so correctly.

UPDATE: 9:20 a.m.

A 49-year-old Big Island murder suspect is in police custody today after he was mistakenly released from the Hawaii Community Correctional Center.

Brian Lee Smith of Honaunau called police dispatch from a business in the Captain Cook area shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday and told dispatchers he wanted to turn himself in, authorities said today. Patrol officers were immediately dispatched to the area.

He is being held at the Kona police cell block in lieu of $2 million bail, and is scheduled to appear in court today.

Smith was supposed to be detained on $1.15 million bail, however, he was mistakenly released from the correctional facility Tuesday.

He was awaiting trial for a June 23 shooting on Painted Church Road in South Kona. Thomas Ballesteros Jr., 42, of no permanent address, died at the scene and another man sustained non-life-threatening gunshot injuries.

Smith was charged with one count of first-degree attempted murder, second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder, two counts of ownership or possession of a firearm prohibited and two counts of carrying or use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony.

Smith’s attorney Jason Kwiat said Thursday that he had been in touch with his client after his release. Kwiat couldn’t immediately be reached Friday.

UPDATE: 8:15 a.m.

The Hawaii island prosecutors office confirmed this morning that murder suspect Brian Smith, who was mistakenly released, is back in police custody.

Police said he was arrested last night in Kailua-Kona and is being held in the Kona cell block

(This story will be updated.)

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A manhunt is underway on the Big Island after a pretrial detainee was mistakenly released from a correctional center.

Brian Smith, 49, of Honaunau was supposed to be detained on $1.15 million bail. However, he was erroneously released from Hawaii Community Correctional Center on Tuesday.

Authorities say Smith was scheduled to appear in court this afternoon but didn’t show up. A bench warrant has been issued for $2 million.

Smith was awaiting trial for a shooting last month that left one man dead and one injured on Painted Church Road in South Kona.

He was charged with one count of first-degree attempted murder, one count of second-degree murder, one count of second-degree attempted murder, two counts of ownership or possession (firearm) prohibited and two counts of carrying or use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony.

Hawaii County prosecutors informed HCCC this morning the facility may have erroneously released Smith Tuesday, the Department of Public Safety said. The Public Safety director’s office was notified at 11:30 a.m.

Smith was released, as ordered, for district court matters, but “it was quickly confirmed through documentation that the inmate should have remained in custody in a circuit court matter,,” DPS said in a written statement.

“As soon as we knew, we took action to alert the public,” a DPS spokeswoman said in the statement.

Smith is described as 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 130 pounds. He has gray hair and blue eyes.

If you see him, please call 911.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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