Judge to decide bail forfeiture battle

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Two Blair County assistant district attorneys have asked Judge Elizabeth Doyle to forfeit the bail money posted by a bail bond company that enabled an allegedly dangerous suspect from Altoona to gain his freedom and commit new crimes.

If the judge upholds the request by prosecutors Peter Weeks and Derek Elensky, it will mean that bondsmen could lose a great deal of money if a client commits a new crime, particularly if he injures someone.

Weeks said Blair County’s position is based on an Oct. 30, 2013, opinion by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in which it expanded the reasons bail can be forfeited to include violation of bail conditions.

One of the conditions included in almost all bail agreements is that the suspect must obey the law and not commit new crimes while awaiting trial.

In a case titled Commonwealth v. Hann, the Supreme Court ruled that courts could forfeit the bond of someone who violates their bail and sent the matter back to the county for a hearing.

In that case, Ricky Lynn Hann, 51, of McConnellsburg persistently violated protection-from-abuse orders to stay away from his girlfriend, Tina Souders, 39.

Within hours of being released on $100,000 bail, Hann held Souders hostage then killed her and himself.

In his violence against his girlfriend, prosecutors argued Hann violated his bail conditions and asked that Hann’s $100,000 bond be forfeited.

On May 3, Fulton County Judge Angela Rosenberry Krom ruled the bail bondsman must pay the $100,000, The Fulton County News reported.

The case before Doyle on Friday involved Toryan White, 24, of Altoona, who last August was arrested for attempting to strangle his wife.

He was released on bond but was soon arrested a second time for possession with intent to distribute heroin.

Again he was placed on bond – a total of $55,000 – when, on Dec. 20, 2013, he led police on a chase through the city, eventually crashing into a bridge and a wall.

He fled the demolished vehicle, leaving behind an injured woman and a child, according to the charges.White’s bond on the first two sets of charges was revoked, and he was sent to the Blair County Prison.

Now Weeks and Elensky are citing the Hann decision in an effort to have White’s bond forfeited, a position that is being challenged by Ace Bail Bonds LLC of Reading, which put up the cash for White’s release.

Attorney John D. Bucolo, representing the company, and Mark Zearfaus, White’s defense attorney in the three cases against him, are stating that normal bail practices in Pennsylvania are not really different now than before the Hann decision.

Bucolo argued Friday that the primary purpose of bond is to assure a suspect’s presence at hearings and trial.

White, he said, missed no proceedings.

Another traditional reason for forfeiting bail is to repay a county for expenditures it may incur in locating a suspect who is on the run. That also was not the case with White, argued the defense.

In a legal brief filed by Bucolo, the defense stated: “Indeed there is no method by which anyone, including a professional bail bondsman, can guarantee the behavior of another [person].”

The legal brief stated that a judge can revoke bail on a suspect who violates the rules and that occurred in White’s case.

Speaking to the Hann case, Bucolo stated, “Bad facts make bad laws.”

He takes the position that the Supreme Court is expecting bail bondsmen to be “the defendant’s keeper, baby sitter, if not jailer and this destroys the presumption of innocence.”

Weeks countered by pointing out that Ace Bail Bonds had plenty of warning when it came to White.

The company posted bond for a guy who was on parole and was under indictment for two serious charges, said Weeks.

Weeks started off his presentation by contending White, who was in the courtroom, attempted to kill his wife. That drew a strenuous objection from Bucolo, who stated the specific facts of the charges were not relevant in discussing forfeiture of bail.

During the ensuing argument with Doyle at her bench, White, who appeared upset by Weeks’ comments, asked to go back to the prison.

Deputies took him from the courtroom, and the argument continued without his presence.

Doyle said she will issue an opinion on the forfeiture request but said she will have to study the very lengthy Hann case, which she was seeing for the first time.