Criminal suspects released on multiple felony bonds in Texas' most populous county have killed 156 people since 2018, according to victim advocates, who have criticized bail reform efforts that have seen some people charged with violent crimes and released back onto the streets only to violently re-offend.
In Harris County, home to Houston, the largest city in the state, there are 113 defendants charged with capital murder that been granted bond, Rania Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers of Houston, told Fox News. The group has been tracking statistics in the midst of a change in bond policies.
Specifically, the public safety institution tracks cases for suspects out on multiple felony bonds, including bond forfeiture and bonds for those released on their own personal recognizance (PR). PR bonds don't require cash to get out of jail but include restrictions such as GPS monitoring or drug testing.
"We were seeing really violent, violent habitual offenders being released on either no bond or ridiculously low bonds, and we said, ‘This is going to wreak havoc,’" Mankarious said. "It's the epicenter for bail reform run amok."
Harris County's bail practices underwent a change after officials settled a lawsuit that stopped requiring most people accused of misdemeanor crimes from having to put up cash or large sums to get out of jail. However, some judges have applied such policies in felony cases, said Mankarious.
One suspect released while charged with violent crimes is Andrew Williams. He stands accused of killing Martha Medina, 71, on Sept. 23, 2021, a during a robbery outside a McDonald's in Houston. Williams allegedly stole Medina's purse and struck her with his car as he was taking off.
He was out on bond for a 2019 capital murder charge and for aggravated assault in Harris County at the time.
"If one capital murder case isn't enough to keep somebody behind bars, then what is?" Medina's son, Adrian Medina, told Fox News. "You left a wolf back out and a wolf is going to do what a wolf does and that's not OK."
He is still seeking justice for the grandmother of four.
On Dec. 20, police in the Houston suburb of League City announced that a murder suspect out on Harris County bonds had been arrested for another killing. Devan Jordon, 21, allegedly followed Jeffrey Johnson and his wife home from a Galleria-area restaurant on June 11 and shot and killed him during a robbery.
He had been out on bond for Harris County charges, including capital murder, in a different case. He is currently being held in Galveston County jail on a $1 million bond.
Rosalie Cook, 80, a grandmother of six, died in 2020 when she was stabbed in a Walgreens parking lot after purchasing a greeting card. The suspect in her death, Randy Lewis, 38, was shot and killed by police.
He had been arrested 67 times and was out on two personal recognizance bonds at the time of the murder.
"Randy Lewis should never have been free. Now an innocent woman has been murdered. Everyone deserves better. This is absolutely shameful," the Houston Police Officers' Union tweeted at the time.
In Houston, the city finished 2021 with 473 homicides, a nearly 20% increase from the year before.
State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican and former Harris County prosecutor, introduced legislation early last year that would require defendants accused or previously convicted of violent crimes to post cash bonds to get out of jail before trial.
Fox News has reached out to her office, the office of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, and several groups in favor of bail reform.
In September, Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation that requires those accused of violent crimes to put up cash in order to get a PR bond, effectively getting rid of cashless release.
Some advocates see bail reform as a way to prevent discrimination against poor defendants, who can sometimes be left languishing in jail for low-level crimes because they are unable to post bond.
"Some see criminal justice reform as simply everybody's innocent until proven guilty and therefore no one should be held," Mankarious said. "We just want the nonsense to end and us to restore some type of criminal justice that makes sense and puts the victim first and the community first."
In an effort to curb violent crime in Harris County, Judge Linda Hidalgo has proposed a $50 million initiative to improve public safety through infrastructure improvements. The "Clean Streets Safe Neighborhoods Initiative" would revitalize neighborhoods through the removal of blighted buildings, adding streetlights and other investments in areas hardest hit by crime.
"Too often, blighted buildings, dark streets, unsafe and abandoned structures serve as incubators of crime and of gun violence," Hildalgo said at the time of her October announcement.