Crime victim families criticize low bond; Judge explains criteria
Families of crime victims are speaking out, upset that the man accused of shooting his ex-wife in a day care parking lot got his bond lowered, meaning he has a much better chance of raising the necessary funds to get out of jail.
Christopher Justice is accused of shooting his ex-wife, Shirley, 13 times in the parking lot of an Indianapolis day care February 18. Shirley Justice is still recovering from her wounds at the hospital.
Amid criticism, the judge on the case explained to Eyewitness News Friday why he lowered the bond for Christopher Justice.
Inside Criminal Court 5, heavy decisions weigh on families devastated by crime.
"It reopened some old wounds. We mourn still to this day," said a family member related to 28-year-old murder victim Deneisha Watford. Watford died in 2009 as a result of strangulation.
Watford's family member, who asked to keep her identity concealed, now joins a chorus of women concerned about perceived injustice for domestic violence victims. In Watford's case, a man who moved in with her just days before her murder was charged, but found not guilty, in the same courtroom where there's a new outcry.
"Our hearts go out from one family to another and we hope and pray that she recovers," Watford's relative told Eyewitness News.
She came forward after seeing Christopher Justice's $100,000 bond lowered to $25,000, which could allow Justice to get back on the street before he ever goes to trial.
"Will I be afraid? Yes," said Sheila Hart, Shirley Justice's mother, during a press conference held with friends and women's advocates. They all question the system.
Eyewitness News went to the bench for answers.
In a statement, Judge Grant Hawkins explained the bond review. He described the case as a "very ugly shooting at a day care and a fellow on the run. You put a high bond on him to primarily get him back here."
Hawkins went on to say all but murder suspects have a right to a bond set by criteria in a matrix guideline.
The defendant's risk level gets first consideration. Judges examine employment, home stability, arrest records and convictions. Christopher Justice had one arrest but no convictions.
"There were instances where there [were] records of abuse that [were] documented. But it didn't go anywhere," confirmed Hart.
Next, the judge looked at the severity of the crime. Attempted murder is one of the most severe and bond can be set anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 in attempted murder cases.
"He still poses a considerable threat to the victim. He was very purposeful and intentful when he shot at her 13 times with two separate firearms," argued Laura Berry, the Executive Director of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Hawkins says shooting outside a day care scored Justice negative points. While the one-time fugitive got positive points for his surrender and waiver of extradition from Kentucky back to Indiana.
In all cases, Hawkins said, "We have to respect everybody. Sometimes the dynamics obscure other issues." He said he "tried to find the balance."
If Christopher Justice is released on bond, he will be put on GPS monitoring, but his ex-wife's family finds little comfort in that.