Paperwork mix up led led to release of convicted rapist

Published 6:26 pm Friday, August 4, 2006

A mistake in processing paperwork led to the May prison release of Jessie Ponder, a 20-year-old man convicted of statutory rape in Oktibbeha County, state Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps says.

Ponder was released on May 16 from the Rankin County Correctional Facility after serving a sentence for marijuana possession in Choctaw County. He should have remained in the prison on the statutory rape conviction.

Epps said the mistake occurred when the sentencing order from Oktibbeha County on the rape conviction was received on May 15 by certified letter, but was not “logged in” by department employees until May 19, three days after Ponder’s release.

Ponder was sentenced in April to serve seven years in prison in the rape case.

The oversight allowed him to be free for two months until the rape victim’s mother notified officials that she could not find Ponder’s name on the department’s Web site. Epps said such a mistake is rare.

Ponder was arrested Wednesday in Webster County and will be back at the Rankin County prison by next week, Epps said.

Epps said his department deals with thousands of documents each day and processes roughly 30,000 inmates a year. “I’m not making excuses,” Epps said. “I’m taking this very serious.”

The mother of the victim said Epps apologized in an e-mail and said he was referring the matter to his record’s department.

No disciplinary action is expected in the case since the sentencing order was received so close to Ponder’s release date.

State lawmakers passed a measure last session that would electronically notify victims when an inmate was transferred, paroled or released. However, they did not provide funding. Epps has said MDOC will apply for a $300,000 grant to implement the system.