Investigation: Suspects of violent crimes released from jail

July 24, 2013 7:38:40 AM PDT
Shootouts, stabbings and murders often make the headlines. However, what's rarely reported is that some of the people accused in these crimes are released from jail in the days and weeks after they're caught.

Sometimes this comes after they post just a few thousand dollars bond.

"I'm a little scared for my life just because of the fact that I did not know that she was out. What if she wanted to kill me, to finish me off?" said Kenyatta Hastings, victim.

Shaniqua Harold was arrested in April 2012 after she allegedly stabbed and nearly killed Hastings before turning the knife on two other victims.

"When I turned around I saw that my sister who was stabbed and then my girlfriend who was stabbed underneath her neck," said Hastings.

Two days later, bond was set at 10 percent of $80,000. After posting a $8,000, Harold was back on the street.

"If she did this to me, she could do this to others. If I had been dead would she be in jail?," said Hastings.

The family of Kevin Kless known all too well how this situation feels.

"It was very, very painful to see them be released months after Kevin passed away. I'm sorry I shouldn't use that phrase, after Kevin was killed," said Kendall Kless, victim's mother.

The three men who pled guilty in the Old City beating death of Kevin were all out on bond while they awaited trial.

"Are they mass murderers? No, they are not. But my son is dead, at the hands of these guys. And to watch them continue on with a relatively normal life, while we were coping, with the worst experience of our lives. There is no sensitivity in the court process I don't think, to what we were going through," said Kless.

Kenneth Enriquez-Santiago had to pay just $2,000 (10 percent of $20,000) to be released from jail.

Co-defendant Felix Carrillo paid $4,000 (10 percent of $40,000).

Steven Ferguson, who dealt the final blow to Kevin, was released after posting $15,000 (10 percent of $150,000).

"It was devastating, how little value could be put on my son's life. Our son's life, on human life. We didn't understand it then, we don't understand it now," said Kless.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has pressed for higher bail for certain criminal defendants, including those accused of using illegal guns.

"We have somewhat antiquated bail guidelines to be accurate. That's my opinion," said D.A. Williams.

However state law, he points out, does provide bond provision for people charged with crimes less than first degree murder. Anyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

"Ultimately defendants are entitled to bail," said Williams.

"You keep saying that, but the law actually says they are entitled to bail unless they are a danger to the community. Someone who tries to kill someone, is that not potentially a danger to the community?" asked Action News Investigative reporter Wendy Saltzman.

"And that's why we ask for bail, that's why we ask for high bail, for people who carry guns illegally," responded Williams.

Action News wanted to know about low bail provided to other defendants like Robert Amarhanov. He was charged with attempted murder after allegedly stabbing his victim in the back.

"I think violent offenders should be in jail, pending their trial, personally," said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

Amarhanov was released after paying just $1,500 (10 percent of $15,000) in February 2012. Nine months later while he was out on bond, he was arrested again in Bucks County for terroristic threats and assault.

"Sometimes I am upset, and sometimes there are anomalies that often result in bad things happening, and we wish we could wave a magic wand and make things different, but it's an adversarial process," said Williams.

A balance between defendant rights and the rights of their alleged victims. The buck ultimately stops at the hands of the judges.

"If we make it harder for people to get out on bail, the prison costs shoot up, the prison and the city get sued again," said Pamela Dembre, President Judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

President Judge Dembre says it costs the city and taxpayers a staggering $100 a day to keep a single inmate in jail.

"If you want 100 percent safety guarantee, it will cost us so much money that we won't even be able to afford the cops that arrest them," said Dembre.

Dembre recognizes decisions based on money may be unpopular but she says it's necessary.

The new proposed jail, she believes, would likely fill up as quickly as the current one.

"It is an endless sinkhole, and we have to make the best choices we can. They won't be perfect. And it troubles us as much as it troubles every police officer," said Dembre.

D.A. Williams says it may be time to re-evaluate the bail guidelines that are being used in Philadelphia.

It's a process that Judge Dembre says is already happening. She is trying to figure out how to make the bail process safer for the citizens but also cost effective and just.


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