Washington, DC – The police chief in the nation’s capital is not happy that DC Superior Court judges have been releasing murder suspects from jail while the cases against them are pending.
Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham called the pre-trial releases a “very serious public safety issue,” WTTG reported.
Chief Newsham said that the practice of releasing accused murderers from jail on their own recognizance, or placing them on a “high-intensity supervision program,” is a “relatively new phenomenon.”
At least 17 murder suspects have been released from jail in recent months, according to WTTG.
Judges have already found probable cause in each of those cases, and many of the defendants have also been indicted by grand juries.
“Having someone go back into the community after being presented in the court and the court has determined probable cause, it shows the community that these folks go back to that the government is not keeping them safe,” Chief Newsham said, according to WTTG.
The police chief said he is particularly concerned about witness intimidation in such cases.
“It shows the community that they are, in some regards, powerless to address this. The person who goes back into the community can intimidate witnesses,” he told WTOP. “In my opinion, it’s very dangerous.”
According to Chief Newsham, a firearm was used in all but one of the 17 cases, WTTG reported.
“As the chief of police, I think it is going to have a negative effect on public safety – gun violence in particular,” he added.
Among the accused murderers who have been released from jail on their own recognizance is Tony Aiken, WTTG reported.
Aiken allegedly shot a woman as they were sitting in a vehicle outside the victim’s home in 2004.
He wasn’t charged with her death until 2018, and spent just 17 days in jail before the judge released him without bail.
“It was a kick in the face, it was a kick in the gut and I actually felt that,” the victim’s mother, Deborah Evans-Bailey, told WTTG. “I never really understood it. From everything that I knew, I have always been told that if a person was arrested for murder, no bond, no bail.”
In another case, 16-year-old Marquell Cobbs, one of 11 suspects accused of being involved in the 2018 murder of a 10-year-old girl, was released from jail to participate in the “high-intensity supervision program,” WTTG reported.
At least one murder suspect who was released from jail while his case was pending was back in custody just one month later.
Chief Newsham said that defendants shouldn’t have more rights than innocent members of society.
“I don’t think the right of that individual criminal defendant who has been, with probable cause, found to have committed murder, that his right [is] more important than the rights of all the other people who live in that community to be free from the fear of violence,” he told WTOP.
Defense Attorney David Benowitz said that releasing murder suspects is nothing new, and that police should do a better job in their investigations if they want to keep defendants in jail pending their trials.
“This not a new phenomenon,” Benowitz told WTTG. “My response to the police chief would be make better cases.”
“This is not some new development in the law. This is not some new development in criminal investigation,” he reiterated. “This is pretty basic judicial decision-making and is really an assessment of cases that is usually not too complex.”
D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin said that judges must consider multiple factors when deciding whether or not to keep accused killers in jail.
“There are many considerations that go into a judge’s decision to detain a person who is presumed innocent, including whether the accused has a criminal record, and whether there is strong evidence of guilt at the time the decision is being made,” Morin told WTTG in a statement.
Morin noted that decisions must adhere to the D.C. Bail Reform Act, and that judges are not permitted to “detain a person with no prior convictions charged with murder solely upon a finding of ‘probable cause.’”
“Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong,” Morin noted. “People may have differing opinions about judges’ decisions, but our democratic system depends on an independent judiciary that is free to make difficult decisions according to the law and not be influenced by criticism from others, including by public officials.”