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Jail mistake frees career criminal; goes unnoticed for 8 days

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FARMVILLE, Va. (WTVR) - Officials at a Central Virginia jail discovered Friday morning that career criminal was accidentally released last week. 

As a result, the U.S. Marshals Service is hunting for Carter Tillery, a man they consider armed and dangerous.

Tillery was serving a 30-year federal sentence on robbery and firearms charges in a West Virginia prison after being convicted in 2009 of robbing a dry cleaners in Petersburg.

The mistake happened after the 31-year-old was transferred from the federal prison and taken to the Piedmont Regional Jail to appear in court in Dinwiddie County. On Thursday, May 17, Tillery faced more than a half dozen charges, including robbery, burglary, abduction and felony assault.

However, the trial was not able to continue because of a witness.

"The victim in the matter is 76 years old,” said Dinwiddie Commonwealth's Attorney Lisa Caruso. “He has been in and out of the hospital, in failing health. He's currently in a nursing home and it was difficult for us, to not be able to go forward, but it was impossible."

Accordingly, Tillery was taken back to the Piedmont Regional Jail, where he had been housed awaiting trial, and should have been sent back to the prison in West Virginia.

However, a mistake by a jail officer meant Tillery was able to simply walk away from the jail on May 17. 

And even more baffling, jail officials did not discover the convict had been released until Friday, May 25. That means, as of Friday, Tillery has been on the loose for eight days. 

The U.S. Marshal's Office was alerted that Tillery had been released Friday around 8:20 a.m.

"He's been out about 8 days, so we definitely consider him armed and dangerous -- and that’s how we are going to approach him when we locate him," said Kevin Connolly with the U.S. Marshal's Office.

Officials said Tillery has an extensive criminal history. 

"He owes the better part of 30 years on a federal sentence for very violent offenses... and with his criminal history, we just want to get him picked up as soon as possible,” said Connolly.

Connolly also said his office has information about how Tillery got away from the jail and that they are still investigating exactly what happened and why it wasn't discovered for 8 days.

The U.S. attorney's office was in the process of charging Tillery with escape Friday. If convicted, that could add another five years to his sentence.

Tillery is described as a black male, with black hair and brown eyes. He is 5 foot 6 inches tall, around 150 pounds with tattoos on his chest, and left and right arms. 

If you see Tillery, contact U.S. Marshals at 202-307-9100 or call 911.   

Court records list a slew of convictions for Tillery and classify him as career offender.

When he was 17, documents show he robbed the same bank in Norfolk with his brother two times in just three months.

After serving time for the bank robberies, he was arrested for DWI just a month after he  had been free. Later, he was arrested after a high speed chase with police.

Next, he was arrested in 2004 for indecent exposure after he made suggestive comments to a secretary, exposed himself and started masturbating inside a Prince George law office.  

Tillery was behind bars for the first six months of 2005 on indecent exposure charges. Then, two months after being released, he was involved in a felony hit and run. He was released again in March of 2009, but sent back in jail after committing three obscene sex acts.

After that arrest and spending more time behind bars,  Tillery was convicted of robbing Swan Cleaners in Petersburg in 2009. Records show he pulled out a sawed-off shotgun and pointed it at the cashier at the dry cleaners. The woman opened the register and pulled out $100, but Tillery demanded that she hand over the rest of the money.

When she said there was not anymore cash, Tillery forced her at gunpoint to a small room in the back of the cleaners.

That's when Tillery ordered her to "strip it" and take off all of her clothes except her underwear. Next, he told her to kneel and put her head down, while he demanded she hand over more money. 

He eventually located the victim's purse from the front of the store and proceeded to dump the contents on the floor. He stole all the victim's valuables, including IDs, car keys and her computer.

Prosecutors said Tillery has been breaking the law since he was 16 – and that he did not just rob the victim at the dry cleaners -- but forever changed her life because of the violent nature and brazenness of the crime. 

Again, if you see Tillery, call police. 

Stay with CBS 6 News and for the latest updates on the manhunt for Tillery. 

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