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Charlotte Observer: Murderer Mistakenly Freed From York County Jail

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Thomas Aaron Whitlock, 31. Photo courtesy of York County Sheriff's Office.

Thomas Aaron Whitlock, 31. Photo courtesy of the York County Sheriff's Office. Authorities are still searching Wednesday morning for a convicted murderer who was released in error by the York County Detention Center in York, S.C. Thomas Aaron Whitlock, 31, was released from custody around 3 p.m. Monday, but authorities didn't learn of the mistake until almost a day later - shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday, according to the York County Sheriff's Office. The public was alerted more than six hours later in a statement sent to local media. After learning of the error, authorities said they launched an effort to find Whitlock, who was convicted in connection with a 2009 murder in Charlotte. Whitlock, an inmate in North Carolina, had been taken to York County to appear in court on drug-related charges there. Authorities said they realized he'd been mistakenly released as arrangements were being made to return him to Bertie Correctional Institution in eastern North Carolina. Sheriff Bruce Bryant said he has started an investigation into how the error happened. "I could go into a lot of discussions that we've had as to how this took place," he said. "We deal with thousands and thousands of prisoners each year, book close to 7,000 prisoners each year. There has been a mistake made." Bryant, who had been away from the office Tuesday afternoon, said he couldn't comment on department procedures for ensuring an inmate's identity. He said he would have more details today. The York Sheriff's Office said Whitlock has an "extensive" criminal history and is now wanted as a fugitive from justice. Convicted in 2009 Charlotte murder Whitlock was charged in the June 2009 killing of Jamie Thompson, who was found shot on Old Concord Road in Charlotte's University City area. Thompson died nearly two months later, according to reports at the time, and police began hunting for Whitlock. Whitlock wasn't arrested until April 2010, when FBI agents found him hiding underneath a house in Dallas, Texas. He was convicted last May of second-degree murder and possession of a gun by a felon. He was sentenced to between 11 years and 14 years in prison, according to the N.C. Department of Correction. A search of South Carolina records show Whitlock had previously been convicted on burglary, robbery and drug charges. The information about Whitlock's release was sent to the news media about 6 1/2 hours after authorities discovered the error. Bryant did not comment on the delay, except to say, "The media is very, very important in cases like this, but it's not the first thing you do." The York Sheriff's Office, the N.C. Division of Adult Correction and other agencies are working together to find Whitlock. Authorities said he has relatives in Rock Hill. At the time of his incarceration, his address was listed as Dallas, Texas. Authorities said Whitlock is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and 144 pounds, and should not be approached. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at 803-628-3059 or Crime Stoppers at 1-877-409-4321.