Chatham County, GA – Police and prosecutors are furious that a convicted gang member, whom a judge sentenced to 12 life terms plus 115 years in prison, was released by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on Nov. 28 after serving only 25 years.
Christopher Lashaw Murray, 46, was convicted of armed robbery in 1993 after he engaged in a gun battle with police after robbing a Pizza Hut restaurant, the Savannah Morning News reported.
During the commission of the crime, Murray rounded up his victims and locked them in a freezer.
Among his victims were a seven-year-old boy and his birthday party guests.
Murray robbed the restaurant while wearing a mask and carrying an AK-47.
He stole $1,200 from the Pizza Hut, its customers, and even stole the little boy’s birthday money before he locked his victims up to make his getaway, WSAV reported.
At the time of the robbery, Murray was a member of the Ricky Jivens gang that had been terrorizing the community.
“That gang was responsible for more murders in Savannah than any other gang in Savannah’s history,” Chatham County Chief Assistant District Attorney Greg McConnell told the Savannah Morning News. “Savannah led the nation in per capita murders one year when that gang was in operation.”
Police were staking out a number of restaurants due to a recent rash of robberies on the night that Murray struck at the Pizza Hut, and they caught him in the act.
Murray opened fire on the Savannah police and engaged in a gun battle on his way out of the pizza restaurant.
But then his weapon jammed, and police were able to take him into custody, WSAV reported.
"When this individual came out they told him to drop his weapon, he immediately opened fire with an AK 47," former Savannah Police Major Everett Ragan told WSAV. "Christopher Murray had no regard for public safety. He was a serial armed robber and those are the worst kind. Whenever they are put in that situation someone will end up getting shot or injured, and they will not hesitate to do it."
"They [Savannah police] were able to apprehend this individual. Not because he wanted to give up, not because he wanted to surrender, not because he had second thoughts, because he had a malfunction and they were able to get ahold of him,” Maj. Everett explained.
Prosecutors said that on the night of his arrest, Murray said that he had intended to kill a cop and only failed because his gun jammed, according to WSAV.
The retired police major said that 25 years was not enough time behind bars for Murray.
"His sentence was a fair and just sentence and by God one that he should serve," Maj. Ragan said.
When asked if Murray’s early release made Savannah less safe, he told WSAV that “anywhere [Murray] puts his head down at night is going to be less safe."
The parole board almost released Murray in August, but delayed his release because of the strong objections of Chatham County Prosecutor Meg Heap, the Savannah Morning News reported.
Heap told the panel considering Murray’s parole that Chatham County Superior Court Judge Michael Karpf had sentenced the armed robber so severely because he “did not want this defendant to get out of jail.”
She said the board considered their objections but then paroled Murray two months later anyway.
Heap called Murray “one of our most violent offenders” and said she couldn’t understand the parole board’s thinking.
Steve Hayes, the director of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, said that they had considered Murray’s entire prison record – including having been accused of four and convicted of two felony offenses while incarcerated – before making their decision.
"The board decided to proceed with its previous decision to grant parole after reviewing all case information including information received since cancelling a release date earlier this year,” Hayes said. “The board has the discretion to determine who is paroled and when.”