BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A man who was convicted of kidnapping a Birmingham businessman and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison is back on the streets.
Matthew Amos Burke, 35, was released from the Jefferson County Jail on Friday, just a month after being sentenced to 17 years in prison for kidnapping Elton B. Stephens Jr. last year, according to jail records. Tommy Spina, lawyer for the Birmingham businessman, told CBS 42 that Burke was released by accident.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office says Burke was transferred to the Jefferson County Jail back on Nov. 24 to attend a court hearing. He had charges with the state which were dismissed following an appearance Friday.
At the time of Burke’s transfer to the jail, there was “no documentation left to notify jail personnel that Burke had been sentenced by another court and was not to be released,” according to JCSO. It wasn’t until Monday afternoon that it was discovered Burke should have been kept in custody.
JCSO is now asking the public for help in locating Burke. He is described as being 5’7″ and weighing 170 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes. Authorities say he has connections in Fultondale, Tarrant and Remlap.
On September 11, 2020, Burke and Tabatha Hodges broke into Stephens’ house in Jefferson County, where they stole a car, guns, and jewelry before they took him to Blount County and forced him to wire $250,000 to them for his release. After paying them, Stephens was returned home.
Stephens is the son of Elton B. Stephens, founder of EBSCO Industries, one of the largest privately-owned companies in America. In a report published in 2014 by Forbes, the Stephens family was listed as one of the richest families in the country with an estimated net worth of $4 billion.
Burke and Hodges were arrested a few days later and charged with kidnapping. In addition to Burke’s sentence, Hodges was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Martin Keely, U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Alabama, said the U.S. Marshals Service was made aware of Burke’s release Monday. They are working with JCSO and the FBI to locate Burke.
If you have any information on his whereabouts, you’re asked to call 911 immediately.