A New Jersey convict who had been released early from prison before the pandemic, has been arrested again in Florida on a warrant as he's accused of a deadly carjacking in East Orange last month.

James Lewis, 51, was arrested at a home in Winter Haven, Florida on murder, kidnapping, carjacking, and weapons charges by Polk County, Florida Sheriff's Office deputies.

Police there also said they recovered evidence connected to the carjacking in New Jersey, without going into further detail.

Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens said that Lewis had shot a man and zip-tied the man's girlfriend, stealing the vehicle with her in it, before crashing a short time later.

Lewis then made his way to Florida.

Lewis served 30 years of a 40 year sentence stemming from a 1989 homicide, during which he was also convicted for robbery and possession of a weapon.

"In less than two years of being released early, he murdered again. The reason we have prisons is to keep violent and repeat criminals away from victims and innocent people in the community," Polk County Sheriff Gray Judd said.

Not a pandemic prison release

Katherine Carter, a spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, said Lewis was released early from prison before the COVID pandemic hit the state.

The 1989 homicide for which he was convicted had also happened in East Orange, according to Carter.

She said is not unusual for someone to be released ten years early, due to parole and other factors allowing such release.

Up to 3,000 New Jersey inmates near the ends of their sentences were released early in fall 2020 during the pandemic, under an early release law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in October 2020, after being passed by state legislators in close votes in both the Assembly and state Senate.

The law was aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus amid prison populations statewide, which had already confirmed 50 deaths from COVID-19.

Two such inmates who were released early under the pandemic 'credit' law were then charged with new murders over the summer.

Theodore Luckey, 42, of Asbury Park, was accused of chopping a man to death and killing another at a New Hampshire hotel in August.  He had been serving a previous sentence in a New Hampshire prison and was released in May.

Jerry Crawford, 25, of Atlantic City, had served time for burglary and was released from South Woods State Prison on November 4, 2020.  Two days later, prosecutors say he and another man shot and killed a man, less than half a mile from the prison.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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