DENVER (CBS4)– The family of an 80-year-old man, who was beaten to death outside the state Capitol, wants answers after learning the suspect was out on a $0 bond at the time. The case is more common than you might think.
A months-long investigation by CBS4 found, this year alone, more than 4,000 defendants in felony cases have received $1 or $2 bonds, if any at all. Most of them are getting Personal Recognizance or PR bonds that allow defendants to get out without posting bond. They just have to promise to return for their next court appearance. Some of them, like Stephanie Martinez, are leaving court only to be re-arrested for worse crimes.
Martinez is charged with beating 80-year-old George Black to death. He was attacked while feeding pigeons outside the state Capitol in May of last year.
A felon with a history of violence going back more than a decade, Martinez had been charged in two separate assaults just two months before the murder and released by Denver County Court on probation in the first case, a PR bond in the second.
“This person has problems. This person should not be on the street,” says John Stewardson, Black’s nephew.
He says his uncle should still be alive today, “Letting people revolve through the door when a crime is done helps absolutely no one and ends up hurting people just like it hurt my uncle.”
The CBS4 investigation uncovered case after case like Martinez in Denver County Court, where defendants in violent crimes were released within days or hours of their arrest without paying any bond. Their charges include assault, strangulation, false imprisonment, kidnapping, sexual assault of a child, and vehicular homicide. Many have multiple felony charges. Martinez not the only one to be released and then re-arrested for murder.
Six months after Tonell Love received a PR bond for assault, he was charged with stabbing a man to death. Two months after Joseph Topping received a $1 bond for illegal possession of a gun, police say he shot into a crowd and killed a person.
When CBS4 shared the findings with Denver Public Safety Manager Murphy Robinson and Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen, they were stunned.
“We’re not talking about low-level property crimes by any means. These are serious, violent felons and we need some level of accountability in these cases,” Pazen said.
Robinson says it’s a failure of the justice system, “I’ve been hearing about this issue anecdotally for some time. I personally have had trouble getting a lot of the data.”
What he knew is that 45% of felons arrested for illegal gun possession were receiving low or no bond. What he didn’t know is those cases were the tip of the iceberg, “I am shocked with some of the data that’s been presented to me. It is 10 times more than I ever thought.”
Many of the suspects are not first-time offenders. David Noriega has arrests going back 15 years for violent crimes. Last September, he received probation in Denver County Court for an assault. Three months later, he was arrested for murder.
“In some ways this is the definition of insanity,” says Pazen. “If we’re arresting the same people for the same issues and we’re expecting a different outcome, how does that make any kind-of sense?”
Robinson says it’s unacceptable, “Whatever those cases are where there are real victims involved, we have to take a good hard look at that as a justice system and ask ourselves, how is this happening?”
John Stewardson tries not to think about how his uncle died, “Only thing I can do is remember how he was and who he was.”
He says Stephanie Martinez isn’t the only one to blame for his uncle’s death, “She needs to be held accountable and the people who keep letting her out need to be accountable.”