Prisoner mistakenly released allegedly rapes woman next day

Antwaan Clanton

July 20, 2011 6:31:01 PM PDT
A North Carolina prison worker has resigned after mistakenly releasing an inmate accused of kidnapping and raping a woman the next day.

Authorities say caseworker James Smith Jr. was supposed to release 38-year-old Antwaan Clanton to Halifax County deputies last week after he finished serving two years at the Odom Correctional Facility on a charge of obtaining property by false pretense.

But officials say Clanton was set free instead and attacked and raped a woman sitting in her car in the Halifax Medical Center parking lot the next day.

The victim was on a trip from Florida when she became tired while driving Friday, so she pulled off of the highway into the hospital parking lot. Her plan was to take a nap and then get back on I-95.

She told investigators the next thing she knew Clanton was forcing her into the back seat of her vehicle. She says he drove her to a deserted area just off of I-95, raped her and then released her.

Clanton was arrested in the same area later that day on suspicion of breaking and entering.

On Monday, Roanoke Rapids police made a key connection -- Clanton had just been released from prison.

Prison officials say Smith failed to check a court database for pending charges before releasing Clanton.

N.C. Director of Prisons Bob Lewis says Smith was responsible for the procedure that allowed Clanton to go free. There was a breakdown in the system and Lewis says although the case manager shouldn't have let Clanton go, overall, the system works.

"As long as whoever it is responsible for releasing the inmate follows the appropriate procedure," Lewis added.

But Smith says there's more to it. He resigned Tuesday and spoke to ABC11 Eyewitness News Wednesday. He says he takes responsibility for Clanton's release to a point.

"Somehow I missed that one charge, but there were other places that other people could have caught this," Smith said.

Lewis says he is leaving that possibility open and is waiting on the results of an internal investigation. And as for the alleged rape, he says "We certainly apologize to the victim and the general public."

Clanton has a long list of priors and still faces charges in at least three separate incidents.

Clanton remains in the Halifax County Detention Center under a $291,000 bond. His next court date is July 27. It was unclear if he had an attorney.

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