Lazaro Aleman, ECB Publishing, Inc.
A local man who has been jailed for nearly two years without bond on a charge of attempted murder failed to get a bond set at a hearing last week before Circuit Court Judge Dawn Caloca-Johnson.
Frederick Bernard Mitchell, 30, of Monticello, came before the judge on Wednesday morning, May 9, on a motion to set bond. He was represented by Attorney Charles Collins. Mitchell has been in jail since his arrest on July 5, 2016, charged with attempted first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
At Wednesday's hearing, Collins tried to establish that the state had failed to meet its burden of proof in the evidence it had presented against Mitchell to justify his long incarceration without bond. Collins questioned the validity, if not permissibility, of some of the state's evidence, such as the DNA found on a cigarette discarded at the site of the striking the victim on the arm.
Deneen said investigators found a cigarette with Mitchell's DNA at the crime scene and the GPS record on Mitchell's cellphone put him at two locations on the night of the shooting, one of the locations, the crime scene.
Deneen acknowledge that the victim had subsequently changed his testimony but said the victim had done so under threat of harm and had also being supplied with drugs and money by a third party to change his statement. The victim, however, had since agreed to testify to his original statement and to the threat and bribe, which testimony the individual who had made the threat would corroborate, Deneen said.
Collins argued that the evidence was still insufficient.
“What you have before you is the statement of (a witness) who is inconsistent,” Collins told the judge. “He (victim) doesn't give a clear, concise statement to law enforcement at first and then gives another statement. We have a victim who gives different accounts of what happened. Based on his recantation and different statements, it doesn't lead to proof of evidence.”
Moreover, Collins said, Mitchell's co-defendant, Kelvin Salters, had been released from jail. So why was Mitchell being held going on two years?
“Based on the evidence, the burden of proof hasn't been met and he's entitled to bond,” Collins said, adding that Mitchell wasn't a flight risk because of his close ties to the community. If need be, he said, Mitchell was willing to wear an ankle monitor.
Deneen countered that the evidence corroborated the victim's original statement and his recantation was due to the threat of violence, to which he was willing to testify. As for Salter's release, it was the victim's statement that he had recognized Salter's voice at the scene but had not actually seen Salter's face. Nor did the GPS record or DNA evidence indicate that Salter was at the scene, as it did of Mitchell, Deneen said.
The judge took time to review the affidavits and other evidence submitted and consider the arguments before finding in favor of the prosecution. Judge Caloca-Johnson found that the evidence was sufficient, the presumption of guilt great, and the fact that the crime was punishable by a life sentence significant to warrant not setting bond.
“I decline to set bond,” Caloca-Johnson said, noting that in her view Mitchell presented a danger to the community and his alleged tampering with the witness was persuasive.
“I choose not to exercise my discretion to set bond,” she said. “Bond is denied.”
The narrative report of the Sheriff's Office investigator shows that officers responded to a report of a shooting on June 20 and encountered the victim in the parking lot of the Dollar Store on South Jefferson Street. According to the report, the victim's car, a silver Lincoln four-door, appeared to have several bullet holes at the head level of a person sitting. Plus the victim had “an injury of his right elbow consistent with being shot.”
The victim, according to the report, identified Mitchell and Salters as the perpetrators of the crime, which he said had occurred at Mamie Scott Drive.
In subsequent testimony, the victim told investigators that he “owed Mitchell about $100 and Salters about $50 for drugs that he had previously received from them.”
The victim told investigators that he had contacted Salter to pay him back the money and the latter had agreed to meet him at a trailer park across from the Capri on U.S. 19 north, where a party was underway. The victim said Salters subsequently changed the meeting location and told him to meet him instead at Mamie Scott Drive.
The victim told investigators that he had arrived at Mamie Scott Drive and parked on the side of the road and soon a dark colored four-door vehicle had approached from the opposite direction. He said that a man he recognized as Mitchell got out of the passenger side of the car and approached his car and stuck a gun through the driver's window. At which point the victim started to drive off and he heard several shots fired and realized that he had been hit.
The victim also told investigators that he had heard the driver of the car say, “Hey, what's up?” when the other car had first driven up, which voice he recognized as being Salters'.
After investigators interviewed the victim outside the Dollar Store, they went to the site of the shooting and searched the area, where they found several shell casings, divots in the pavement consistent with bullets striking the asphalt, and a cigarette with Mitchell's alleged DNA.
The case is set for trial on Aug. 27-29.