By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
Austin Patrick Hall, the man accused of killing a Bibb County deputy in June, will be arraigned in September on a prison escape charge, nearly three years after Hall allegedly fled a state prison in Camden, Alabama.
The arraignment was set last week in Wilcox County, according to court records.
But why was Hall — who faced charges in multiple other crimes and had a documented history of violence and attempted escape — out of jail in the first place?
The shooting death of Deputy Brad Johnson in June and Hall’s extensive criminal history have led to state officials questioning the state’s “good time” early release law and why Hall was released from custody in April of this year.
“The Attorney General is deeply concerned both by the failure to timely charge the inmate with escape and the failure to use the inmate’s escape as a basis for revoking his good time,” Mike Lewis, a spokesman for Marshall, told Alabama Daily News. “While the Office is still gathering information on how and why these failures occurred, each contributed to the defendant’s release, as did other circumstances presently under review.”
The Alabama Department of Corrections told Alabama Daily News Hall was charged with escape Oct. 7, 2019, the day after his escape from a work release center.
“We are now awaiting trial,” ADOC said in a written response to ADN.
The department referred questions about the delay in any court activity to the Wilcox County district attorney, Michael Jackson. Jackson on Tuesday said he’d have to review the case details, but thought the delay was because “ADOC didn’t serve the warrant (on Hall’s escape) immediately.”
Hall never returned to ADOC custody after the October 2019 escape, instead ending his sentence in Calhoun County jail. He faced new charges in Calhoun and Chilton counties related to alleged criminal activities during his escape. In Calhoun County, he was charged with assaulting a deputy while in custody.
Jackson said Tuesday Hall was likely kept in Calhoun’s jail because COVID-19 protocols limited the transfer of inmates.
In June, when he allegedly shot two Bibb County deputies, Hall had bonded out of both Calhoun and Chiton county jails.
Asked why Hall wasn’t in ADOC custody awaiting his escape trial, ADOC said it “was not notified by either county when he was released from their custodies.”
Hall was serving a nearly 10-year prison term for second-degree theft when he escaped in 2019.
“My question is, why was he even on work release? He had a pretty extensive record then,” Jackson told Alabama Daily News.
Despite the escape, he was released in 2022 under the state’s early release law for prisoners with good behavior.
Marshall previously said that had Hall served his entire sentence, he wouldn’t have been able to commit the alleged shootings.
He’s been charged with capital murder in Johnson’s death and attempted murder for shooting Deputy Chris Poole.
Carla Crowder, executive director of the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, said there needs to be transparency and accountability to fix the errors that led to a preventable tragedy.
“Right now we have half answers at best,” Crowder said. “Why can’t the ADOC and the Wilcox County DA’s office explain what happened, and how someone can escape from prison and face no consequences for it until they turn up two and half years later as a suspect in a capital murder?”