Fugitive’s final hours on lam: How murder suspect was nabbed after mistake set him free

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Eric Vail’s last moments as a free man were spent in a mobile home with his girlfriend and her 7-year-old child in Jesup, the seat of Wayne County in southeast Georgia, officials say.

Vail, 28, was a wanted man — he was arrested in January in Broward County, and charged with murder after last October’s shooting of Wadarius Harris, 27, of Miami. The shooting happened in Miramar.

But a bureaucratic snafu mistakenly set Vail free for 40 days, from May 30 until his arrest in Georgia.

Law enforcement surrounded the mobile home starting at around 5 p.m. Wednesday, said Wayne County Sheriff John Carter. Members of the Broward Sheriff’s Office fugitive unit, the U.S. Marshals Florida/Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force and deputies from Wayne County were on the scene.

They let Vail know his days on the lam were over.

The girlfriend came out first, Carter said. “We could hear there were people inside,” he said. “I don’t know if he sent her or she came out on her own. I don’t know why the child didn’t come out with her. But she told us Mr. Vail had no weapons. Still, we have to assume that there were.”

Earlier coverage: Broward aims to prevent repeat of accused killer’s accidental release »
A little later, the child came out. There was no reason to believe anyone else was in the mobile home, Carter said, so law enforcement made its move.

Carter said his department mostly offered support for the task of capturing Vail, and he’s not entirely sure what tactics were employed to get Vail out of the mobile home. He said he heard a loud bang that led him to believe they had used a “flash grenade,” a non-lethal device that produces a bright light and a loud noise to disorient the target.

After that, Carter said, a K-9 was sent in. Moments later, Vail was emerging from an open window into the waiting arms of his captors.

Two hours after law enforcement arrived at the mobile home, Vail was back in custody.

Vail’s release triggered a blame game among local agencies charged with capturing and detaining crime suspects. Prosecutors and the Broward Sheriff’s Office pointed at the Clerk of Courts, and the Clerk’s Office pointed right back.

Broward Chief Judge Jack Tuter issued an order directing the clerk to issue a “capias” every time someone is indicted for murder by a grand jury — something that had not been done in Vail’s case and would have prevented the jail from releasing him when a lesser charge was dismissed in May.

Vail is expected to be returned to Broward in days. Meanwhile, said Carter, those who helped him evade recapture might face charges of their own. “We think we’re going to have more arrests,” he said. “It depends on the extent of their help.”

It was not clear as of Thursday afternoon whether Vail will face any additional charges.

“From his standpoint, they opened up the gates and said go free,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is defending Vail. “It’s never a good idea to have other people pay for our mistakes.”

Details about Vail’s 40 days on the run were not available Thursday. The Broward Sheriff’s Office has not disclosed exactly how Vail’s location was discovered or whether anyone is in line to claim the $3,000 that was offered by Broward Crimestoppers for information leading to his recapture.

“He was located through investigative follow-ups by the Broward Sheriff’s Office SWAT/Fugitive Unit and the U.S. Marshals Service,” said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright. “The investigation continues concerning any support or assistance Vail might have received.”

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Republished by the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A.