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Accused Killer Freed by FBI Fingerprint Failure


The FBI faces criticism for a failed fingerprint test that allowed a man to walk free and then allegedly commit multiple murders. Authorities in Georgia arrested the man on minor offenses and took his fingerprints, but the computer system that checks the prints did not show he was using an alias and was a wanted sex offender. Authorities aren't sure why. Joshua Levs reports from Atlanta on what is known.

JOSHUA LEVS reporting:

Authorities say in 2003 and 2004, Jeremy Brian Jones was arrested three times in Georgia on minor offenses, and he gave a fake name. His fingerprints were taken and sent to the FBI, but the computer program that scans the prints failed to discover his identity.

Mr. STAN COPELAND (Deputy Chief, Douglas County Sheriff's Department): It was apparently not picked up on on the national level to equate those prints with the wanted person of Jeremy Jones, who was wanted on a sex offense out of Oklahoma.

LEVS: Stan Copeland is deputy chief of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department, which arrested Jones on misdemeanor drug offenses in June 2004. Over the eight months before that, nearby Carroll County had two similar experiences with him. So when Jones was arrested in Douglas County, the only thing that showed up was the Carroll County arrests.

Mr. COPELAND: We got back a clear response, showing the only arrest on file being as John Paul Chapman.

LEVS: He says that's the name Jones used. The fingerprints also failed to discover that John Paul Chapman is another actual person who is in prison in Missouri. Copeland says if authorities had learned they had Jones in custody, he would probably have been handed over to authorities in Oklahoma.

Mr. COPELAND: Chances are, he would not have gotten out based on the practices of most of our judges here.

LEVS: Jones is charged with murders in Georgia and Louisiana and the rape and murder of a 44-year-old woman in Mobile, Alabama, in September. When he was arrested for that murder, authorities in Alabama and Georgia figured out he had used a fake name. This week, the FBI acknowledged that its technology failed. Spokesman Joe Parris(ph) would not speak on tape but said, quote, "The technology has limits. No one did anything wrong." He said the first time Jones was arrested in Georgia, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System did not find a match to Jones' prints on file and created a new record with the fake name, which the future arrests were matched against. Parris said he does not know why the system failed. John Bankhead, with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, cautioned against assuming the entire program is flawed.

Mr. JOHN BANKHEAD (Georgia Bureau of Investigation): There are hundreds of career criminals that are brought down across the country every day because of this system. It has an excellent success rate.

LEVS: The FBI says it works more than 95 percent of the time. That's little consolation to victims' families. Jones, whose defense attorney could not be reached Wednesday, is considered a prime suspect in several other murders, including two in Georgia. Patrice Endres was killed in April 2004. Her widower Rob now says he's holding the FBI partly responsible.

ROB: They might just as well have taken a gun and shot her, as far as I'm concerned.

LEVS: And he said he has a larger concern that a potential terrorist may not be caught.

ROB: If they can't identify some common criminal that comes into Georgia from Oklahoma, you know, how do we expect that they're going to identify some imbecile that comes in from offshore somewhere?

LEVS: FBI spokesman Parris said the technology makes 50,000 matches a day and is helping protect the country. He said for now, as an added measure, when prints are taken, authorities are pulling up any prints they have on file from those same individuals and entering those into the system to make sure they match and to try to ensure that no outstanding warrants are missed. For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Joshua Levs