Licking County judge cites mistakes by court before Kirkersville massacre

Thomas Hartless (left) and Licking County Court Judge Michael Higgins (Courtesy: Licking County Court/Jail)

NEWARK, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) -- The judge who released Kirkersville killer Thomas Hartless from jail early and 30 days before the last week's massacre released a ten-page report citing problems in the case.

On March 23rd, Licking County Court Judge Michael Higgins ordered batterer Hartless to serve three months in jail and seek domestic violence counseling when out on probation. Hartless pleaded guilty that day for beating his girlfriend Marlina Medrano on three separate occasions since December.

This week, ABC 6/FOX 28 pressed Judge Higgins on why he allowed now killer Hartless out of jail in just 20 days that allowed him to gun down Medrano, her coworker Cindy Krantz and Kirkersville Police Chief Steven Eric DiSario.

Judge Higgins released the report of the mistakes made in the case and how he plans to revamp the system. He wrote no checks or balances were used in the case and the early release fell solely upon the recommendation of one probation officer, who did not read the court files of the three domestic violence cases against Medrano.

That probation officer told the judge he recommended the release due to Medrano's letter she wrote the court for the March sentencing which stated, "I never intended Tom to be jailed for his actions."

The recommending officer also noted Hartless to be "polite, coherent and under no mental health crisis" in his assessment interview.

With no formal hearing, Judge Higgins admitted he signed the order of release, which did not include the mandated domestic violence counseling or a "no contact" order with Marlina Medrano.

When Medrano called the probation department herself on May 5th, one week before the killings, no arrest warrant was filed for a probation violation, no probation officer did a home visit checking for guns and no one from the department informed Medrano about the battered woman's shelter where she could go if she didn't feel safe.

As of Wednesday, Judge Higgins put a three-tier checks and balance system in place for early release recommendations.

The initial probation officer, senior probation officer and judge must read all case files and the assessment interview of the offender. Those jail interviews will also have a format to be a lot more in-depth.

Judge Higgins said he will answer questions about this report, but has not said when.

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