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Florida Sheriff Has Blunt Question For NJ Officials Who Released 2X Accused Murderer Early

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd holds a mugshot of James Lewis.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd holds a mugshot of James Lewis. Photo Credit: Polk County Sheriff’s Office

"How'd that work out for you, releasing a killer early?"

That's the question a Florida sheriff asked New Jersey officials when a convicted killer was released from prison early and committed a similarly heinous crime less than two years later.

James Lewis, 51, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for a 1989 homicide in East Orange, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd explained.

He was released after 30 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Essex County Sheriff's Office.

On Sept. 18, Lewis shot Troy Traynham, 59, while he was helping a woman unload groceries on Chestnut Street apartment in East Orange, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens, II, and East Orange Police Chief Phyllis Bindi said.

He then zip tied her, put her in her car own and drove off in it. 

Meanwhile, Traynham -- a security guard formerly of Linden -- was transported to University Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 4:48 p.m.

Lewis fled to Florida and was captured Tuesday, Oct. 19 by Polk County deputies at a Winter Heaven home.

"James Lewis. He's got a title," Judd said. "Do you know what that title is? Murderer."

In 1989, Lewis was given 40 years in prison for murder and robbery, the sheriff said. "A bargain I think for killing someone."

After 30 years, Lewis was released.

"Twenty-five percent of his sentence whacked off after he murdered and robbed," Judd said. "Less than two years later, guess what he did? He murdered again."

Lewis was being held in Florida pending extradition to New Jersey.

"He is a murderer," said Judd. "A cold-blooded, vicious, evil murderer and he's done it two times. 

"I want to ask the State of New Jersey: How did that work for you, letting him out early?"

The investigation is active and ongoing.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force at 1-877-TIPS-4EC or 1-877-847-7432. Calls will be kept confidential. 

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