REALITY CHECK: Investigating bonds set in Mobile county
MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) —
Every week, people accused of committing sometimes heinous crimes are given bonds.
But many of you often wonder, how low is too low?
It isn't unusual for a bouncer to kick someone out of a bar.
But on June 20th at 4:15 am, that decision turned deadly for Jeremy Scott Smith.
The bouncer made Dewayne Wheat leave Shotgun Willies. Moments later detectives say Wheat came back with a gun and started shooting.
"The man walked to his car, got a gun and came back. Jeremy tried to keep him from getting all the way into the club. He was in the front door area of it. He shot Jeremy until he ran out of bullets. He emptied the entire gun into Jeremy's chest," said a family member.
Investigators arrested Wheat, charging him with murder.
Later in Judge George Hardesty's courtroom, the District Attorney requested a $150,000 bond.
Hardesty went lower, setting bond at $75,000. The murder suspect quickly made bail.
"How is it fair that man gets to go home and be with his family and Jeremy will never see his again? It's not right," said family.
"The primary purpose of bond is to insure the defendant's return to court. Bond is not punishment. Bond comes before trial," said Judge George Hardesty.
According to bail recommendations set by the Alabama Supreme Court, bond for murder should be set between $15,000 and $150,000. Of course a judge can go lower, higher or give no bond. They also have the option of adding cash requirements to the bond. And it is ultimately up to the judge to weigh numerous factors like criminal history, age and the nature of the offense.
But judge Hardesty says he stands by his decision.
Even though Wheat had prior arrests on record including assault and robbery charges, those charges never amounted to convictions.
"The defendant had no prior felony convictions other than one and that was in 2011, 6 years ago for an obstruction of justice charge not involving harm to anyone," said Hardesty.
"It was a cold senseless act of violence. So yeah, we think he's a danger to the community. That kind of behavior doesn't stop one day," said District Attorney Ashley Rich. "But what really bothers us is when a defendant has a right to a bond, gets a bond, and then he commits a new offense. If he gets a new offense, we believe he should not get a new bond on that new offense. He got his bond, was out living the high life waiting for trail and if he commits another offense he should be made to sit in jail until his case goes to court."
A recent example of this came just last week, when a man named David Henry was arrested on more than a dozen burglary charges in Mobile.
No these weren't violent crimes, but records show Henry had multiple convictions and been in and out of prison since 2004 for theft and burglary. In November of last year, he was arrested in Mobile on more burglary charges and was out on bond for those arrests, when he was charged in a rash of burglaries in the Oakleigh Garden District just last week.
Despite the DA's office asking for no bond, Judge Joe Basenburg set bond at $210,000, with $35,000 of that to be paid in cash.
Another example? Erick Toomer.
He was charged with murder in the death of a 68-year-old grandmother: Mary Faulk.
Though investigators say it was Faulk's 13-year-old grandson who pulled the trigger, Toomer is charged for his involvement after the crime, accused of assisting in the cover up and destroying evidence.
In Judge Hardesty's courtroom, Toomer was given a $25,000 bond. He got out of jail.
"While he was out on bond he got picked up on public intox. We asked the judge to revoke his bond but the judge said no, let him right back out of jail on that same bond. Then he gets a harassment charge and that third time, then the judge revoked his bond. No that shouldn't happen," said Rich.
Records show it was Judge Bob Sherling who first chose not to revoke Toomer's bond, but later put him back in jail.
In other recent murder cases, suspects were given much higher bonds. Judge Sherling gave Leonard Gravesande a $150,000 bond. He's accused of shooting and killing a man on Dubose street.
And Willie Lewis, accused of murdering a man in the parking lot of a Texaco gas station, got a $200,000 bond with $25,000 of that required in cash. Lewis had pending charges on a different case at the time of his arrest.
"Generally, there are few exceptions, but generally the bonds set here in Mobile County accomplish the goal, which is to insure a defendant comes back to court and doesn't cause harm to anyone else," said Judge Hardesty.
An interesting side note, under the Alabama Supreme Court bail recommendations, the maximum bond recommended for drug trafficking offenders is $1.5 million. While the max recommended for murder is $150,000.
For more information on bonds and how they're set in Alabama, click HERE