Judges grant bond to most Charleston County murder suspects

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 6:11 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 8:10 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The majority of people who have been charged with murder in Charleston County since 2018 have been granted bond, raising questions over how public safety is balanced with the rights of defendants.

An analysis of court records found that 67 percent of people charged with murder in 2018 were granted bond. That number jumped to 84 percent in 2019, with roughly half of murder suspects being given bond the following year.

“It’s not a surprise,” South Carolina Victim Assistance Network legal director Sarah Ford said. “It should be shocking to me but it’s not. The number of defendants who are charged with violent crimes, given a bond, re-offend, [and] given a bond again? It’s astronomical.”

In August 2020, 36-year-old Aubrey Tucker was charged with killing Ridgeville resident Anthony Myers in North Charleston. Just two months later, he was released on a $200,000 bond.

Last month, while still out on bond, Tucker was charged with another murder. Berkeley County deputies alleged that Tucker killed a mother of four named Jessica Ancrum in the Goose Creek area before going on the run for two days and ending up in Columbia.

“It’s very very unfortunate that here it is again,” Myers’ sister Warren Sharnae said. “He has another crime that he committed that he needs to be held accountable for.”

Culver Kidd, a criminal defense lawyer based in Charleston, explained that people accused of crimes in South Carolina have a constitutional right to bond and that the bond process is not supposed to be used as punishment.

“It is only there to ensure someone shows up in court and to protect the community from certain individuals who pose a certain unreasonable risk,” Kidd said, adding that judges considering bond should determine whether a defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community.

Kidd used to work on the other side of the courtroom as a prosecutor, but says it is important to remember that one of the most fundamental parts of American court systems is that people are innocent until proven guilty.

“Having access to my client is huge in my pre-trial prep,” Kidd said. “If my client is in jail, it limits my ability to defend them. I can’t even describe how much. It makes a huge difference.”

Judges who choose to release defendants on bond can order certain conditions of release, such as requiring suspects to remain at home, not speak to victims’ families, follow a curfew, or wear a GPS monitor.

Ford said that the GPS monitoring systems for people released on bond work well in some South Carolina counties, but that in others, “the GPS monitors mean absolutely nothing because nobody’s checking it.”

A suspect’s GPS device is usually monitored by his or her bail bondsman, according to Ford, but if the bondsman is not actively monitoring the GPS, a defendant can slip the device off or break curfew without being noticed.

“This morning I had an incident where I found out a defendant had slipped his monitor and violated conditions of his GPS six times,” Ford said. “No one was notified. The only way they were notified is [because] the victim ran into the defendant in a place he shouldn’t be.”

In Charleston County, 46 murder suspects were given bond in 2018 and 2019. Court records indicate that in 80 percent of those cases and in Tucker’s original case, R. Markley Dennis, Jr. was the judge.

When reached for comment, Dennis’ law clerk stated, “It would not inappropriate [sic] and against judicial ethics policy for a judge to talk about cases over which they may preside.”

Although Tucker is back in jail as he awaits two trials, Myers’ family feels that Ancrum’s death was entirely preventable.

“If the judge kept him locked up, it would not have happened,” Warren said.

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