Joel O’Keefe, the repeat felon escapee who was scheduled to be released from prison in November, continues to remain behind bars this week because the state will not approve of any proposed homes for him if he was let out.
O’Keefe could have been released Nov. 25, but after backlash from police in the region who were concerned about the prospects of him being on the street, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has declined to approve any of the addresses that have been found by his family for him to live upon release. He will be on parole after his release.
DOCCS has not elaborated as to why the proposed homes were found to be unsuitable. A spokeswoman for the agency said he could be kept in prison until the end of his sentence in 2023 if he cannot find appropriate housing.
The spokeswoman said it is a "continual process" of trying to find an approved address for an inmate when they become eligible for release. If they have issues with the department's actions, they have the option of a court challenge.
DOCCS can disapprove residences for any number of reasons, such as proximity to victims, schools or people with criminal records, or lack of access to employment or services.
Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said O’Keefe had been seeking release to a residence in his former hometown of Argyle. He said it was not known why the home was turned down.
He said the Sheriff’s Office was told by the state that it will be notified ahead of time when O’Keefe is approved for release.
“We haven’t heard anything new about him,” Murphy said Tuesday.
O’Keefe, 57, has been in prison for felony counts of burglary, criminal possession of a weapon and escape committed in 1994, followed by three more prosecutions for crimes in prison that included attempted escape and possession of contraband.
He is most well-known for a September 1994 escape from State Police in Ballston Spa, which led to a massive, 13-day manhunt around the region that ended when he was caught in Bennington, Vermont.
He became eligible for release in late November after serving more than two-thirds of his prison term under the state’s “conditional release” program.
When it became known in November that O’Keefe may be released in the coming weeks, police ramped up investigation of numerous unsolved crimes that occurred when he was out of jail in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Among them was a 1988 inquiry into the killings of Fredrich J. Pauling, 56, and James Checkush, 37.
One victim was shot and the other bludgeoned near Dick Hill Road, where Pauling had a seasonal home. Checkush was reputed to be involved in marijuana trafficking, as was O’Keefe, who had a 1990 felony marijuana possession conviction and lived a short distance from Pauling’s seasonal home.
Murphy has acknowledged that investigators were reviewing unsolved cases to which O’Keefe may have been connected.