A Harris County District Court Judge has authorized the release of a suspect who was already out on multiple bonds at the time he allegedly murdered Guy-Anthony Owen Allen in April.
As detailed in a June 16 story, prior to his arrest for the April murder, 24-year old Vernon Menifee had been released on bonds three times for felony charges in 2019 and 2020.
Menifee had a lengthy criminal history dating back to 2013 that included six prior felony convictions, and court records indicate police knew him to be a member of a criminal street gang known as “The Early Boys.”
The primary suspect in the shooting death of Owen Allen, Menifee was charged with Murder and Aggravated Robbery with a Deadly Weapon. He was rearrested earlier this year, but has been released from the Harris County Jail after posting bond on August 21, 2020.
According to court records, Menifee posted bond with the 209th District Court under Judge Brian E. Warren. His official assigned bond is listed as $150,000, but the actual amount paid is not noted, and suspects usually pay approximately 10 percent of listed bond amounts.
On July 9, 2020, Menifee’s attorney filed an emergency motion for bail and a hearing arguing that the money bail amount was beyond the defendant’s ability to pay, and therefore not compliant with the U.S. Constitution.
The motion also cited COVID-19 concerns.
“Further, COVID-19 is causing an unprecedented public health crisis that underscores the constitutional requirement that pretrial detention be a last resort,” the motion reads.
Harris County has been at the center of controversial bond policies that have led to the release of numerous violent suspects, some on Personal Recognizance, or PR bonds.
As Andy Kahan of Crime Stoppers Houston has documented, nearly 60 murders in the county are tied to defendants who had been released on multiple felony and PR bonds over the past two years.
“This latest bond debacle is extremely troubling regarding the ramifications of bond reform in regards to public safety,” said Kahan who serves as Director of Victim Services and Advocacy for Crime Stoppers.
“There can be no justification to continually release a habitual violent felon back to the community time and time again only to repeatedly see the offender reoffend umpteenth amount of times. Obviously public safety is at a higher risk regarding his latest release on bond.”
Ray Hunt, past president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, called Menifee’s release “standard operating procedure” for Harris County Judges, but also called on District Attorney Kim Ogg to do more.
“The District Attorney’s office is asking for no bonds for many of these folks, but when it’s denied we hear nothing about it,” Hunt told The Texan.
“She should be out there every single day, or at least every single week, telling the people what these individual judges are doing.”
The district attorney’s office says that they are ethically prohibited from publicly criticizing judges and their decisions. Earlier this year, Ogg participated in a press conference with law enforcement officials to highlight the problems with lenient bond policies in the county.
After settling a lawsuit last year over misdemeanor bond policies, the county was thwarted in settling a similar lawsuit for felony bonds, Russell v Harris County, since the State of Texas, Governor Greg Abbott, and Attorney General Ken Paxton were granted intervenor status.
Earlier this year, plaintiff’s attorneys in Russell requested that Chief U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal order immediate hearings or immediate release of thousands of pretrial inmates at the Harris County Jail in light of COVID-19 concerns, but the federal judge denied the request.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has highlighted the problem of rising murder rates in the area, and a Wall Street Journal analysis reported that homicides in the city increased by 27 percent in 2020 from 2019.
According to records available at the Harris County District Clerk’s website, Menifee’s arraignment set for August 24, 2020 was reset for October 29, 2020.
UPDATE: According to the Harris County District Clerk’s criminal database, a new warrant has been issued for murder suspect Vernon Menifee for Felony Burglary with Intent to Commit a Felony. Menifee is not in custody at this time. No other details are currently available.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its original version to include mention of Ogg’s participation in a bond policy-focused press conference with law enforcement officials.
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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.