A record-breaking $4 billion bond was set Tuesday for Killeen murder suspect Antonio Willis, who turned himself in last week to police.
Newly elected Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown, Precinct 4, set the record bond which is the largest in Bell County history and possibly the U.S. According to law firm Nuttall & Coleman, the highest bond set in U.S. was $3 billion for New York real estate heir Robert Durst. Durst was charged and later acquitted in 2003 in the murder of his neighbor, Morris Black. The bond is higher than TxDOT Waco District's 96-mile expansion from Hillsboro to Salado which is estimated at $2.5 billion.
A local attorney says Judge Browns decision is shocking.
"On the face without looking at any of the facts of the case it does clearly appear that this is excessive bond and it would be violating his 8th amendment rights" says Steven Walden, Carlson Law Firm.
Walden went on it say it's violating the suspect's rights because there's no way for Willis to realistically pay the bond.
Bell County Sheriffs officials even had to get a new software system to be able to read the large bond amount.
"The system that we had was built to go up to one billion dollars when this bond came in we had to set it at one billion even though it was 4 billion until we could get our IT department to come and fix it for us, but it is fixed now and we're able to do what we need to do" says Major T.J. Cruz, Bell County Sheriff's Office.
Willis' attorney plans to fight back. He argues the bond is too high for the crime especially considering his client was never a flight risk.
"We have a way to protest this and that is to go the district judge and ask for a reduction and we're going to do that very soon. Obviously this is something we don't agree with we do think the amount is shocking but we have a way to present our side" says Attorney Billy Ray Hall.
Judge Brown says she set the high bond amount to send a message. She says she wants to illustrate that bond amounts are already set much too high for Americans struggling to make ends meet, and that someone shouldn't be forced to sit in jail because they can't pay a bond before being proven innocent or guilty for their crime.
"It's ridiculous what we're doing to the people of Killeen in the judicial system, lower bond amounts for poor people. We cannot set bonds in a punitive fashion that punishes people. Three quarters of the people who are sitting in jail right now are sitting there because they can't afford to get out, the system is broken therefore" says Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown.
She went on to say that she usually sets bonds much lower than even a million dollars. She says she wanted to set the bond in this case around $100,000 because she felt that is what Willis could afford, Brown says she received push back and pressure to higher the amount and that's when she decided it was time to speak out for bond reduction reform.
"I wanted to choose a number that was so big and so ridiculous it would get people to look. How can we even set a one million dollar bond when people here don't even have jobs. When you're a new justice and see a system that needs reform you hope that your message resonates" says Brown.
The suspects attorney filed to have a bond reduction early Thursday and expects to have a date for that hearing within a week.