One hundred and twenty five accused murderers. That’s how many people who have been arrested and charged with killing another human being are walking local streets according to the Mobile County District Attorney’s (DA) Office.
If that’s not bad enough, these accused murderers were able to post bond and walk free while awaiting a trial that will likely be years away. How far away? The DA’s office says they recently just started prosecuting murder cases from 2017. I almost don’t have enough fingers on one hand to count that far back.
Late last week, the Alabama Supreme Court did something that could help keep future murder suspects in jail by raising the maximum bond on non-capital murder charges to $1.5 million. Until now, the max on a non-capital murder was $150,000 and it can take as little as 5 percent down to make bond. That’s just $7,500 to buy your way out for what might be a five-year wait for trial.
The new bond maximum is a good move because some accused murderers out on bond awaiting trial — believe it or not — are shooting more people. Just two months ago, Christin Edwards, who has been out on bond for two-and-a-half years on charges she murdered 17-year-old TyDarius Jones, shot four people after an altercation in a Mobile bowling alley. She easily could have four new murder charges pending, fortunately, no one died.
And this past weekend, Dayvon Bray, 22, was arrested and charged with murdering his 18-year-old girlfriend, Jireh Portis. Bray was out on bond after catching his first murder charge just five months ago.
It has to be heartbreaking to lose a loved one to such violence. But it has to be beyond heartbreaking and infuriating when it’s at the hands of someone who is already accused of killing someone else.
I’m all for “innocent until proven guilty,” but it’s hard to believe someone would be wrongfully accused of murder twice in a lifetime, much less twice in five months. You’re really asking to be the subject of a Lifetime movie if you were.
We live in a time when we seem to be much more focused on the rights of the accused than we’ve ever been. “Excessive bail” has become a rallying cry for those on the far left who believe all arrests are the result of either racism, classism or some other terrible “-ism.” The one big problem with this line of thought is it ignores the dead body in the middle of the room.
Doubtless, Alabama will immediately get tagged by some in the cable TV chattering class as being woefully behind the times because of this change to the bail parameters. I can only imagine how we’ll once again be tarred as living in the past and supporting policies that mean poorer people have to rot in jail while awaiting trial, while the rich can wait it out at home.
But my guess is Alabama is probably at the vanguard of the pendulum swing back toward higher bond limits as a country awash in blood grows more and more frustrated with killings. While we as a nation have been focused on defunding police and reducing bonds, cities across the fruited plain have recorded their highest murder rates on record last year. Mobile is one of those.
Is giving judges the option to set a $1.5 million bond on an accused murderer going to stop the slaughter? No, it won’t, but it at least could allow us to reduce the number of people indicted for murder who are walking our streets and take away their option to get into more trouble.
Judges are under pressure to stop the “revolving door,” and this will give them one more tool to do that. But the bigger answer lies in ensuring another of our constitutional guarantees — the right to a speedy trial.
Higher bond limits may keep more accused murderers in jail, but what we really need to do is clear up the backlog of homicide cases that already exist. The argument that higher bonds are unfair loses some of its luster when the process takes months instead of years.
Of course, there are also other practical issues that make the current backlog undesirable. The longer it takes to get to court, the more opportunity there is for witnesses to die, move away or otherwise become unavailable when the time comes. The same can happen with law enforcement officials involved in a case. The system was never intended to be four or five years behind.
What’s the answer? As with almost anything in our poor-as-dirt state, it’s money. In a place like Mobile County where things are so far behind, it’s logical that we need more judges holding more trials at least until things are caught up. But that’s easier said than done.
A Public Affairs Research Council study of Alabama’s judicial funding problems in 2014 said adding a circuit court judge costs roughly $430,000 when you count in necessary staff. That was over seven years ago, so it’s unlikely that number has done anything other than gone up. Add a couple of judges and you probably need to find close to another $1 million, which is not so easily done.
There’s something tragically broken in our society when so many people are killing one another. We say things about how the vast majority of these murders involve people who knew one another somehow, or are gang-related, as if that doesn’t make it quite as bad. And maybe it doesn’t feel as bad if it’s not happening in your neighborhood, but we also need to remember the vast majority of the people in the neighborhoods where all these murders are happening aren’t involved either.
The larger societal issues that have so many young people willing to kill one another and have sent murder rates skyrocketing are complex to say the least, and I’m not sure anyone has really identified the exact reasons for this increase in murder. Obviously, it would be best if there was a way to get to the root of it all, but I don’t think we’re close.
In the meantime, giving judges another weapon with which to at least curb recidivist killings is a step in the right direction. As TV’s “Baretta” used to say, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” Making accused murderers wait in jail may at least save some lives.
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