Judge lowers 20-year-old capital murder defendant's bond to $50,000; now he's accused of killing someone else
HOUSTON - Even though Criminal District Court judges can deny bonds to capital murder defendants, we have found more than 110 capital murder suspects free from jail on bond. At least four of them are accused of killing someone else while out on bond.
There are good reasons why Texas gives judges the right to deny bond to capital murder suspects.
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"To receive a capital murder charge, it has to be multiple people, it has to be a murder in the commission of a felony offense, or you have to kill a law enforcement officer," said Doug Griffith president of the Houston Police Officers Union.
"Either one of those three things you have proven that you are not going to be productive in this society."
Keep in mind capital murder suspects are facing a possible death sentence or life in prison.
"You've got to understand nine times out of 10, they're not coming back to court," Griffith said.
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On October 19, 2017, police say 20-year-old Jonathan Vera and two other men killed Silvano Cortez during a home invasion in Houston's Greenspoint area.
"Held the homeowner and his wife at gunpoint, ransacked the house, and ended up killing a 55-year-old homeowner and shooting another person while they were trying to flee the scene," said Andy Kahan with Crime Stoppers.
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In June 2018, a then 17-year-old Jonathan Vera was charged with capital murder. His bond was set at $250,000.
"He was actually in jail for at least two-plus years," Kahan said. "While he was in the Harris County Jail, he was actually charged with another felony, harassment of a public servant."
Then in March 2021, 351st Criminal District Court Judge Natalia Cornelio lowered Vera's bond.
"The 351st District Court, I mean, lowered it to what I've never seen in my career," said Kahan. "$50,000 for capital murder."
"That is insane," Griffith said. "Two years ago that would have been an aggravated assault bond."
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One day after Judge Cornelio lowered Vera's bond, he walked out of jail.
Just last week, police say Vera took another life and is now charged with manslaughter in the death of Summer Chester.
"The reduction of his bond from $250,000 to $50,000 led to the killing of Summer Chester," Kahan said. "There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it."
"That judge should be held accountable," Griffith said. "They do whatever they want, because no one will hold them accountable."