Why are alleged killers granted bond? We take a deep dive into the pretrial process here in Georgia

Why are alleged killers granted bond? We take a deep dive into the pretrial process here in Georgia

ATLANTA — Murder defendants being released on bond is not uncommon in the state of Georgia.

Channel 2 Action News has covered countless stories throughout the state where the charge is murder, and the bond is then granted.

The seriousness of the charge is not always what factors into the request, but it can play a part in the conditions of the bond.

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Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr learned, ultimately, the decision comes down to perceived risks in the case.

On Tuesday, the defense team for former Atlanta police Officer Garrett Rolfe talked about his character during a bond hearing. They talked about how their client held down full-time studies at Kennesaw State University while serving as an Atlanta police officer.

“Officer Rolfe is not a threat. He is a professional at all times and was a professional that night,” attorney Bill Thomas told the court.

The state argued there was no guarantee he wouldn’t leave Georgia.

“I know we’re not here to decide the merits of the case, but the reality is the strength of this case is strong. It’s so strong that it would provide a motivation for Officer Rolfe to flee this jurisdiction,” said Clint Rucker, Fulton County executive assistant district attorney.

Rayshard Brooks’ widow said the bond release was something she couldn’t take.

“I forever have to explain to my kids their daddy will never come home,” Tomika Miller told the court.

Ultimately, a Fulton County judge granted a $500,000 bond for Rolfe, who’s facing felony murder and a slew of other charges tied to the fatal shooting of Brooks.

It came with a number of conditions. Rolfe must wear ankle monitoring, is under a curfew, banned from seeing or talking to other witnesses, must have no contact with Atlanta Police Department officers and have a notice of residency to ensure low risk ahead of trial.

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Similarly charged cases vary in detail and circumstance — and nationwide, the pretrial detention process is something the Department of Justice still doesn’t have a hold on.

“We were charged with a plan to collect that information for the federal government,” said Kideauk Kim with the Justice Policy Center.

Here in Georgia, it's not so uncommon, especially when there's no offender history.

“Your Honor, In Fulton County, I don’t know how many murder cases you have, and Mr. Thomas said this before, but if Garrett Rolfe isn’t entitled to a bond under the statute for a murder case, nobody is. Nobody is,” defense attorney Noah Pines argued in court Tuesday.

Carr learned when it comes to granting bond in Georgia, it’s not about the charge. Rather, it’s about the conditions.

“You can look at the charge in that it’s a serious charge, which is why you would consider not giving bond, but that’s not the purpose of the bond statute. It’s not to punish somebody who is still presumed innocent,” legal analyst Esther Panitch said. “It’s to make sure that person shows up to trial and that they’re not a danger to the community while they are out.”

Carr spoke with Panitch hours before Rolfe’s bond hearing ended, but she echoed the judge in outlining bond release merits that were used.

In our own archives, there are countless similar pretrial murder case outcomes.

In 2016, the state argued that attorney Tex McIver had plenty of assets to get out of town if released on bond after admitting to shooting and killing his wife in the backseat of a car.

McIver said it was an accident. A Fulton judge granted a $250,000 bond. McIver would later be convicted of felony murder.

In 2017, an Atlanta widow was upset that a murder suspect was released on bond a month after her family said they witnessed him kill her husband.

“I’m the one suffering the loss and knowing he’s out there,” Louisa Williams told Carr at the time.

Carr pulled court documents from the case showing the defendant’s lack of a felony record and the fact that he had not been indicted played a role in the bond release.

“The defendant was unindicted. He was, in fact, entitled to be indicted so this case could move forward, and that did not occur in this case,” Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk told Carr at the time.

“And that’s just the law?” Carr asked Kirk.

“Right,” Kirk said.

And in 2015, when an officer was behind the trigger, killing a naked, unarmed veteran named Anthony Hill, there was also a bond granted in the case.

At the time of Robert Olsen’s 2016 indictment on felony murder, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found he was the first Georgia law enforcement officer in five years to be prosecuted for shooting and killing a civilian while on duty.

Olsen would be found not guilty on murder charges, but guilty on lesser charges.

Still, the pretrial process and the question of detention is something the DOJ is trying to figure out now, using recommendations crafted from the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center.

“It’s ridiculous, really, not to have this at the national level. We definitely need to have official statistics on how courts operate. Especially pretrial defendants. How many of them are there? Are they released during pretrial period, or are they detained?” Kim said. “If detained, who are those people? We need to know those statistics. We will be better able to inform policymaking in our practice.”

Kim is a senior fellow in the center and explained to Carr the challenges in calculating those stats.

“Some counties, there are courts or probation departments running pretrial operations. Other counties, there are private companies running pretrial. In other counties, there is none. So it’s really difficult to get a sense of who to even talk to in a given jurisdiction,” Kim said.

Rolfe’s co-defendant, Officer Devin Brosnan, has already been released on a $50,000 bond. He faces lesser charges.

Rayshard Brooks: Former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe granted $500,000 bond