Although last week Houston Police Department investigators successfully obtained a warrant for the arrest of Vernon Menifee on new felony charges, a Harris County district court magistrate authorized his release again on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old suspect was arrested earlier this year and charged in the murder of Guy-Anthony Owen Allen on April 21, but released in August after posting bond. At the time of the alleged murder, Menifee was already free on bond in three separate felony charges.
The new warrant sought Menifee on charges of Burglary of a Habitation with the Intent to Commit Aggravated Assault, and describes a home-invasion style burglary that involved a gunfire exchange with the female resident who was shot in the arm.
Menifee, who police say also has gang ties, was rearrested over the Labor Day weekend, but on the morning of September 8, the 232nd District Court under Judge Josh Hill authorized his release on a bond set at $50,000.
Rather than the elected judge, appointed magistrate Jennifer Gaut signed off on Menifee’s bond and subsequent release.
Gaut is also the magistrate who refused a prosecutor’s request for a $50,000 bond in the case of Timothy Singleton, a felony suspect charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and prior convictions. After Gaut reduced Singleton’s bond to $500 and released him, he allegedly broke into the home of an ex-girlfriend and assaulted both the woman and her grandmother.
Responding to Gaut’s actions in the Singleton case, the district attorney employed a long-ignored section of Texas criminal code and appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The court unanimously ruled against Gaut, reset Singleton’s bail at $100,000, and issued a warrant for his arrest.
According to the district clerk’s records, Singleton is being detained in the Harris County Jail system with an upcoming court date on September 22.
Regarding the Menifee case, the district attorney’s office told The Texan that while they could not comment on a specific judge’s actions, they had sought to prevent Menifee’s release.
“Our prosecutor filed yet another motion for a judge to deny the defendant bail and also filed a motion that if the judge grants him bail, that the defendant be ordered to wear a GPS tracking monitor,” said Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
The Texan requested comment from Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo who has previously voiced objection to lenient bonds and release conditions, but did not receive a reply in time for publication.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office under Ed Gonzalez (D) did not respond to requests for comment.
Joe Danna, Gonzales’ Republican challenger in the upcoming 2020 general election, expressed concern over Menifee’s release.
“Vernon Menifee is known to pose grave danger to society,” said Danna. “But for the last two years, the work of law enforcement officers has been subverted by judges playing fast and loose with lenient bond policies.”
Danna also noted that Sheriff Gonzalez has backed the county’s bond policies.
Gonzalez has frequently addressed the Harris County Commissioners Court in support of more lenient bond policies and advocated for the release of many jail detainees due to coronavirus concerns earlier this year.
County records also indicate that Menifee has repeatedly pleaded indigence as a justification for reducing his bond amounts. He has successfully posted for release under bond amounts of $100,000, $150,000, $70,000, and $50,000 since March of 2020, with additional amounts in 2019. However, it is unclear as to how much he actually paid in each case.
Records indicate Menifee was appointed county taxpayer-funded defense attorney. His bond for his murder charges stipulate use of a GPS monitor, for which his fees were waived.
Houston Crime Stoppers Victims Advocate Andy Kahan, who has been tracking the number of those murdered by bonded out suspects, expressed renewed disgust over Menifee’s release and called the situation “The Harris County Bond Pandemic.”
“The fact that taxpayers are footing the bill for his legal defense despite the fact that he managed to cough up enough dough roughly around half a million to bond out defies logic and smacks of the ultimate hypocrisy while fleecing taxpayers with the District Court’s approval,” said Kahan.
Kahan most recently reported that Joseph Olguin has become the 61st person allegedly killed by a defendant released on multiple felony bonds or personal recognizance bonds in the last two years. The prime suspect in Olguin’s murder, Luis Cervantes, was released on four separate bonds between February and June of 2020.
The Texan also requested comment from Chair of the Houston Public Safety Committee Councilmember Abbie Kamin, but had not received a response at the time of publication. The committee has been examining recommendations for police and criminal justice reforms in the city.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.