Last Thursday, a Harris County judge known for leniency toward felony offenders ordered a murder suspect released on personal bond.
David Cruz, 29, had been detained in the county jail after being charged with the murder of Christian Tristan in August of 2019.
In an official motion to reduce bond, Cruz’s attorney argued that coronavirus “is certainly going to strike the Harris County Jail population and spread like wildfire among inmates.” Official documents filed with the District Clerk’s office make no mention of any underlying health conditions for Mr. Cruz.
Cruz’s release was authorized by Harris County 180th District Criminal Court Judge DaSean Jones (D), who has previously come under fire for releasing felony suspects on personal recognizance bond.
Last October, Jones ordered a PR bond for Nathaniel Taylor, a habitual offender with a criminal history dating back to 1994, and who had already failed to appear on a previous felony charge.
One month later, Taylor shot at Houston Police officers and has now been charged with attempted capital murder and detained in the county jail.
Elected to the 180th Criminal Court in 2018, Jones is a member of the Houston Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). His wife and fellow socialist Audia Jones recently lost her bid to unseat Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.
At a Houston DSA discussion on “The End of Policing” last year, Jones said, “I plan on having one term, because I plan on pissing a lot of people off.”
Although Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has announced plans to release “non-violent” jail inmates with health risks in light of coronavirus concerns, on social media he responded to questions about Cruz’s by saying, “Public Safety should be considered in every case.”
Regarding the Cruz case, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s office told The Texan, “That particular release was ordered by a judge overseeing a Houston PD case. Our agency had no input in that decision.”
Highlighting continued tensions over public safety and criminal justice reforms in the area, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo took to social media early Saturday to express concerns about Gonzalez’s plans to release pretrial detainees without a definitive plan “when there are health services in the jail.”
Earlier in the week, Acevedo had also used his Twitter account to respond to the release of Cruz saying, “Outrageous! Some of our activist judges & officials must not be allowed to use COVID19 as a pretext to release dangerous people.”
Another socialist and controversial Harris County Judge, Franklin Bynum of Criminal Court No. 8, has also invoked the coronavirus pandemic to justify the release of suspects.
On Friday, Bynum lambasted the District Attorney’s office for seeking to prosecute and detain suspect Christopher Bales on misdemeanor theft charges in Harris County. Bales, however, is also a wanted fugitive due to felony domestic abuse charges in Michigan.
Despite a statement from the county prosecuting attorney in Washtenaw County Michigan confirming plans to extradite Bales, Judge Bynum is seeking to release the suspect as soon as possible.
Late Friday, Harris County District Court judges released new General Order Bond guidelines providing for expedited release of individuals charged with certain felony crimes as long as suspects do not have a pending felony or open warrant. Felonies listed for release include “Bribery, Delivery of Marihuana [sic], Forgery, Manufacture of Substance in Penalty Group I (481.112b), and Theft (31.03(e)(4).”
Murder suspect David Cruz is represented by David Cunningham, a criminal defense attorney who also serves as an adjunct instructor at the University of Houston Law Center and who attained notoriety for defending convicted Bosnian war criminal Radoslav Brdanin.
Prior to his arrest for the murder of Christian Tristan, Cruz had served a five-year prison sentence for Failure to Stop and Render Aid after a vehicular accident that resulted in the death of Anthony Story in 2011. Records indicate Cruz was also twice arrested for Driving While Intoxicated in 2017.
Below is a copy of the motion to rescind Cruz’s bond.
Correction: A previous version of the article called suspect Christopher Bales by an incorrect first name.
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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.