HARRIS COUNTY – Governor Greg Abbott will soon sign into law the felony bond reform bill that will eliminate personal bonds for the most violent offenders, among other things.
Crimestoppers of Houston started keeping track of how many people in Harris County were killed by someone out on multiple felony bonds, PR bonds or bond forfeiture.
In a little under two years, 131 victims fit that category, or about a half dozen people per month, including Tevin Watson.
Police say Watson was home with his two sons in July, in the middle of the day, when Quirithiam Phillips and a friend forced their way into his apartment and shot him to death.
Phillips was out on eight felony bonds at the time, including aggravated robbery and felon in possession of a weapon.
“Which in street terms means (a) get out of jail free card, which makes zero sense,” said Andy Kahan with Crimestoppers. “That’s not going to happen anymore under this legislation.”
Senator Joan Huffman from Houston, a former prosecutor and former judge, sponsored the bond reform bill.
“We’ve heard from so many victims, so many awful stories and tragedies,” said Huffman. “It feels good to be able to do this for the families of the victims who have been waiting.”
The law goes into effect in 90 days and will eliminate personal bonds for the most violent charges, including murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated sexual assault.
The law requires judges to review the criminal and bond history for every defendant, which is called a “public safety report,” and to sign off on it before setting a bond.
That information, who is bonding out and which judges are involved, will now also be public record and published every month and available to anyone.
“We’re hopeful that it’s going to play a role in ending the revolving door at the courthouse, which undoubtedly has led to the increase in crime rates in Harris County,” Kahan said.
“The judges are now required to have training,” Huffman said. “They’re required to look at many factors before they set a bond for anyone arrested. This is long overdue for the people of Texas.”
A constitutional amendment that would have eliminated the possibility of bond for a small handful of the most serious violent offenses passed in the Senate, but not the House.