You've probably seen it time and time again across Eastern Carolina where suspects charged with the same crime are given drastically different bonds. That's the case right now for three high profile murder suspects in Pitt County.
Phillip Lewis is out of jail after posting a $500,000 bond with some restrictions. Alton Modlin is also out of jail after posting a $14,000 bond. James Richardson remains locked up under a 5 million dollar bond. So why such a big difference in bond amounts for a similar charge?
Pitt County District Court Judge Charles Vincent says, "I think the main two things are number one, to ensure the public is safe or other persons are safe, two to ensure that the defendant will come to court." But that's just the beginning. Judge Vincent says he goes by a whole list of factors every Pitt County judge and other officials are required to use. Those include whether the suspect fled from the scene and police had to run him down, the length of time they've lived in an area, their contacts, whether they have lived in other countries, have a history of flight to avoid prosecution, their family ties, employment, financial resources, character, and mental condition.
Both Vincent and district attorney Clark Everett point out each case is different, another reason a similar charge doesn't mean the same bond. Everett says, "It's a call that judges make based on their experience, and their guidelines. It's like any other decision that people make, they do the best they can to weigh the risk and the fairness to the defendant."
Vincent and Everett would not comment on the three murder suspects cases we outlined because they did not want to jeopardize the upcoming trials. But they did answer hypothetical questions.
For example, if the victims are not targeted but are randomly chosen, how does that impact bond for the alleged shooter? Judge Vincent says, "When murder is alleged to have been indiscriminate and against people you don't know that would indicate a higher bond."
As you'll recall, Richardson is accused of gunning down two ECU students outside a Greenville nightclub. Officials say Richardson did not know the people he is accused of killing and they say he also fled to another state after the incident, but later turned himself in to authorities. Again, his bond is five million dollars.
The possibility of self-defense also factors in to a judges decision-making on bond. Judge Vincent says, "If self defense is an issue that would make it a different situation from someone that walks into a store and blows someone away."
Some believe self defense is a factor in the case of Alton Modlin, accused of killing his stepson with a shovel. In court, the victims mother talked of the victims violent past and alcohol history. The judge in the case then said he felt a lower bond was appropriate. It was ultimately set at $14,000.
That brings up another factor officials look at... any history of violence of the murder suspect and the deceased.
Police say defendant Phillip Lewis killed another former ECU student after a fight between two college age groups of people. Lewis's family lives in Pitt County. According to officials, the victim had two court dates pending, including one for misdemeanor simple assault. Lewis was given a $500,000 bond with limitations, like drug and travel restrictions.
In the end--officials say they strive to strike a balance with bond, without risking public safety.