Get out of jail free: Wayne County judges under fire for keeping dangerous criminals on the streets

DETROIT (WXYZ) - In Wayne County, scores of convicted felons guilty of crimes as heinous as attempted murder are being given what critics say is a get out of jail free card.  In some cases, the judge's decisions appear to conflict with the state's penal code.

As we first reported Thursday, many judges are continuing criminals' bond after felony convictions.   It gives them sometimes months more of freedom before they need to report to prison.  But instead of showing up, these criminals chose to flee.

"Judges need to err on the side of protecting the community.  And sometimes I think they err on the side of protecting the criminal," said John Broad, president of Crimestoppers.

Ellis Stafford spent 23 years with the Michigan State Police, and today he's operations director at the Detroit Crime Commission, a non-profit, crime-fighting group made up of some of the state's top law enforcement officials.  He says after a grueling trial, locking up a criminal should be the easy part.   

"It is hard getting people to come to court in a 'no snitch' mentality, and  to get that witness to come forward and give that statement in open court and be cross-examined," Stafford said.

"And you walk out and at the end of the day... they're right down the street from you.  It's got to be demoralizing."

Stafford and others suspect that jail overcrowding is one reason county judges often continue bond after a conviction. While jail space is at a premium, none of the judges we talked to for this story listed overcrowding as a reason for letting out criminals.   

Judge Bruce Morrow continued the bond of Demetrius Edwards, found guilty of armed robbery.  But instead of sending him straight to prison, he chose to continue Edwards' bond. That same day, police say he shot and killed Cedell Leverett. We spoke with his sister Briona today.

"It didn't have to happen at all.  This shouldn't have happened. That's what hurts so bad," she said.

"This young man has nothing to lose. Why would he care about the next man? And that man was my brother. That man was a son, a father.  And now every day we have to live with this loneliness, this emptiness."

It's not just Leverett's family who's taking issue with Morrow's decisions. Earlier this year, the Judicial Tenure Commission accused him of letting out other criminals he shouldn't have.

In Judge Vonda Evans' courtroom, a man convicted of sexually assaulting a minor had his bond continued after his conviction.  Evans released him, with no objection from the prosecutor, for another six weeks before sentencing.

He never returned to a courtroom.

But Evans ruling appears to conflict directly with Michigan's penal code. According to state statute,"a defendant convicted of sexual assault of a minor… shall be detained and shall not be admitted to bail."

"Were you aware of this statute?" Jones asked Judge Evans.

She said later that she wasn't.  Yesterday by phone, she said that had she read it, "It would have impacted my decision."

That's no comfort to the criminal's victim, who remembers the day she learned he was on the run.

"I started crying, because I couldn't hold my anger in," she said.

"I was just mad that they didn't care."

In a statement, Judge Vonda Evans said: "In every criminal case judges are afforded great latitude and discretion regarding bond.  We are now reviewing every case individually to assure that the victims (sic) and defendants (sic) rights are fully protected."

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said: "We expect all judges to follow the law, especially when the law dictates a mandatory sentence."

She said her prosecutors will continue to object  when judges continue the bond of criminals they believe should be locked up.

If you have a tip for the 7 Action News Investigators, contact us at tips@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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