Sheriff: Drug suspect committed murder 1 day after being released from jail in coronavirus purge

( HCSO photo )

On March 19, a drug suspect with a lengthy rap sheet was released as part of Hillsborough County’s efforts to thin out the jail population amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. One day later, deputies say, he committed murder.

According to the sheriff’s office, Joseph Edward Williams was in the Orient Road Jail on charges of possession of heroin, which is a third-degree felony, and possession drug paraphernalia, which is a first-degree misdemeanor. 

The 26-year-old was one of 100 inmates given bond as part of an effort to lower the risk of COVID-19 spreading within detention facilities and to protect the inmates, deputies, and civilians working within the jails.

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But now, deputies say, he has been arrested for a murder that took place March 20 along Ash Avenue in Tampa’s Progress Village neighborhood. 

Deputies said the victim was found injured on the street, and he later died in the hospital.

Williams was arrested Monday and now faces new charges of second-degree murder, resisting an officer with violence, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of heroin, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Records show he was arrested Monday.

"There is no question Joseph Williams took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes while he was out of jail awaiting resolution of a low-level, non-violent offense,” Sheriff Chad Chronister offered while announcing the arrest. “Every murder, every violent crime, especially those involving a gun, is a sickening example of the worst in our community, especially at a time when our community is working relentlessly to fight against the spread of this deadly COVID-19.”

The sheriff’s office noted that Williams was previously convicted of two felony offenses, including burglary of an unoccupied conveyance in 2012 and felon in possession of a firearm in 2018, along with five misdemeanor convictions. 

"Judges, prosecutors, and sheriffs around the country are facing difficult decisions during this health crisis with respect to balancing public health and public safety."

— Sheriff Chad Chronister

Throughout the course of his criminal history, Williams has been arrested for 35 charges in total.

He is currently back in jail on a "no bond" status.