Nebraska prison officials defended their handling of news that an inmate convicted in a 1997 Omaha slaying had walked away while on work release Saturday, six days after his victim's son was killed.
Anthony Gafford, 40, left the minimum-security Community Corrections Center-Lincoln at 6 a.m. Saturday to go to work at Smithfield Foods at 200 S. Second St., but he never returned.
He was unaccounted for during an 8 p.m. prison check, and staff learned Gafford had clocked out at work at 3:21 p.m., according to an affidavit for his arrest.
He was put on escape status at 8:15 p.m.
Lincoln law enforcement agencies were notified by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services within the hour, and the Corrections Department changed the online record in their inmate database to reflect his escape.
But department officials had not formally announced to the public that Gafford was missing until Tuesday.
In the afternoon news release, Director Scott Frakes said staff followed department policy in cases where inmates walk away from the state's community corrections centers.
"When Mr. Gafford failed to return to CCC-L at the appropriate time, staff initiated the appropriate notification process to law enforcement," department spokeswoman Laura Strimple said.
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Chief Lancaster County Deputy Sheriff Todd Duncan said the sheriff's office was notified at 8:55 p.m. Saturday.
The sheriff's office relies on the Corrections Department to make the public aware of escaped inmates, he said.
Convicted of second-degree murder and a weapons charge, Gafford was sentenced to 30 to 50 years for fatally shooting Jacque Holbert in September 1997. Prison records say his scheduled release date is Dec. 11, 2022.
He had been on parole twice, Strimple said, but had it revoked. Another parole hearing was scheduled for April.
Until Saturday, Gafford had been in the prison's custody since 2017.
On Jan. 20, Holbert's son, 21-year-old Jacque "Jack" Holbert IV, was fatally shot while lying in a bed in a home in Omaha. The shots came from outside the house, police said. No arrests have been reported.
A representative of the Holbert family told the Omaha World-Herald the family had not been notified of Gafford's escape, but the prison's spokesperson said staff notified the person listed with the prison as the primary contact.
Police didn't immediately return messages to the Associated Press about whether Gafford knew about the death of his victim's son or if Gafford is being investigated in connection to the death.