HOUSTON – KPRC 2 Investigates combed through court records and found some suspects are getting out of jail on bond over and over again in Harris County and then go on to be accused in a homicide.
After reviewing homicide cases for the last two years where murder charges were filed, there were 27 cases where a defendant was out of jail on two or more bonds at the time they were accused of killing someone.
Family shares their story
Monica and Armando De Leon’s 18-year-old son Macario was shot and killed in early December. Louis Ybarbo was arrested and charged with murder in connection with the case.
At the time of the shooting, Ybarbo was out of jail on two other bonds, accused of two other crimes.
“I was angry, and I still am,” said Armando De Leon.
The De Leons said they believe Ybarbo and Macario never should’ve crossed paths. They add that Ybarbo never should’ve been out of jail.
“I’ll never be able to understand life as it was before, and my heart will never be complete,” said Monica De Leon.
The De Leons not only blame Ybarbo but also Judge Ramona Franklin of the 338th Harris County District Court.
Ybarbo’s rap sheet includes aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. His bond was revoked last July at the insistence of prosecutors, but Franklin issued a bond yet again. By mid-October, he was back on the streets. Weeks later, police said he shot and killed Macario in a Greenspoint-area parking lot.
“The judge has as much blood on their hands, just as the guy who pulled the trigger,” said Armando De Leon.
Judge Franklin turned down multiple requests from KPRC 2 for interviews.
Out of the 27 cases KPRC 2 identified where investigators said a homicide was committed by a suspect out on multiple bonds, Judge Lori Chambers Gray’s court handled four of them.
Gray also declined a request for an interview. Instead, she sent this written statement: “Thank you for the request but the Judicial Canons prohibits the Judge from discussing any matters pending before any of our Courts.”
Judge Chris Morton of the 230th District Court had one case out of the 27.
Morton agreed to be interviewed on camera.
“Each judge has the jurisdiction of their court,” said Morton.
“I may disagree with some of my colleagues, with the practices that they have,” said Morton.
“I can’t say what they’re doing is right or wrong,” he added. “All I can say is what I am doing in my courtroom and what I interpret the law to be.”
Is this happening near you?
KPRC 2 Investigates examined murder charges filed over a two-year period in Harris County, and then looked to see how many of those suspects were out on at least two bonds at the time of the homicide. Twenty-seven suspects fell into that criteria. The map below shows the addresses of where those 27 homicides happened. The shaded areas represent Harris County Commissioners Court precincts.
- Harris County Precinct 1 (Ellis): 12 cases
- Harris County Precinct 2 (Garcia): 9 cases
- Harris County Precinct 3 (Radack/Ramsey): 4 cases
- Harris County Precinct 4 (Cagle): 2 cases
Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis is considered the architect of bail reform in Harris County, by backing judges with similar philosophies about reform.
Bail reform is designed to address inequities in the criminal justice system, but the reforms Ellis helped design are now having a disproportionate effect on public safety in his own precinct. KPRC 2′s analysis of the 27 homicide cases over the last two years found 12 of those homicides happened in the area Ellis represents.
“I know, representing one of the poorest precincts in the state clearly, criminal justice issues are always a problem,” said Ellis.
“Is there anything you would change?” KPRC 2 Investigates reporter Mario Diaz asked Ellis.
“Oh, there’s a hell of a lot I would change,” Ellis said. “I’d invest a lot more money in alternatives to just locking people up, but with that you’ve got to make sure we’re safe as well.”
Bond reform is a topic that will generate a myriad of responses from various stakeholders. Victims, politicians, advocacy groups, bondsmen as well as law enforcement. Two of the highest-ranking members in Harris County -- Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo -- recently spoke to KPRC 2 Investigates about the challenges of bond reform and the impact it is having on the streets.
What’s being done
Now, the governor and state senators on both sides of the aisle want to change the law.
“We really need to be able to deny bond for violent offenders,” said State Sen. John Whitmire, District 15.
“This is terrible public policy,” said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, District 7. “It shouldn’t happen and these judges have got to stop what they are doing.”
“We should be targeting violent, habitual criminals,” said State Sen. Borris Miles, District 13.
Bettencourt and Miles support new bipartisan legislation to keep violent suspects off the streets, forcing judges to follow the law, not their own personal discretion, especially when a suspect is charged with other crimes.
“It’s amazing to me in the same jurisdiction, depending on which judge you get, it’s a different level of justice you’re going to receive,” said Whitmire.
“That’s not right, and we need to identify those individuals and make sure they are following the course of the law,” said Miles.
Facing a surge in homicides, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner agrees bonds should be provided in low-risk cases, not for suspects with a violent history.
“I think people would have a hard time saying if you’ve been out on a PR (personal/unsecured) bond and you committed a felony, violent offense and this is yours second, third, fourth, fifth, you shouldn’t keep getting a PR bond in the second, third, fourth, fifth time,” said Turner.
In the video below, hear from a bail bondsman, who is at the center of this debate. What he is in favor of including in new legislation and a skyrocketing number of defendants are failing to appear in court.