A million dollars for bail is a large number. But is it an unheard-of one?
On March 31, Bellefonte dentist Wade Newman had bail set in his case at $1 million. Newman is charged with felony counts of rape of an unconscious person, criminal attempt to commit rape, kidnapping and sexual assault, and misdemeanor charges of indecent assault of an unconscious person and indecent assault without consent.
He is awaiting preliminary hearing but posted bail through a Pittsburgh bondsman on April 3.
“This case is very serious and bail conditions are very important to victims and others in the community while cases are pending,” Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said.
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Stephanie Cooper is Newman’s attorney. She is concerned that very high bail can punish people who are accused before they are convicted.
“There are other ways to protect the public,” she said. “That is what bail conditions are for.”
Bail that high is not an everyday occurrence in Centre County, but it’s also not exactly a myth.
Pennsylvania law allows for a wide range of factors to come into play when a judge sets bail. In addition to the charge and the suspect’s history, there are things such as ties to family, financial state and flight risk to consider. What is not to be in play is a penalty against the accused for maintaining innocence.
“The decision of a defendant not to admit culpability or not to assist in an investigation shall not be a reason to impose additional or more restrictive conditions of bail on the defendant,” reads Rule 523 of the state code.
Since 2007, at least 11 other cases working their way through Centre County court have seen a $1 million threshold for freedom before trial.
In March 2007, Christine DeRosa Balliet was charged with crimes including attempted murder for an attack on her husband with a kitchen knife and a Chevy Blazer. She was sentenced to five to 10 years in 2008, but continues to petition higher courts to hear her case. The most recent documents were filed in January 2017. Balliet is incarcerated at Muncy state prison.
Lee Caughron, of Gibsonville, N.C., had his $50,000 bail raised to $1 million in July 2007 for charges including possession with intent to deliver marijuana and illegal possession of a handgun that were joined by felony counts for possession means and materials to manufacture methamphetamine. He was sentenced to one to two years, a penalty that was satisfied in 2008.
A Zambian native living in College Township, Katongo Mulenga, was charged with criminal conspiracy to commit murder and criminal use of a communications facility in 2009. He had a $1 million bail set and faced 27 years behind bars. He entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to six months to one year in December 2009. His sentence was completed in May 2010.
Maksim Illarionov is serving 37 to 74 years at Somerset state prison. He started out with $1 million for his array of burglary charges in 2010, but when he petitioned to have it lowered, a judge responded by doubling it instead.
Randall Brooks, of Howard, received a $1.1 million bail for his case after shooting at a former girlfriend’s new boyfriend. He was charged with attempted murder, stalking and intimidation. President Judge Thomas King Kistler said the “ongoing and continual” nature of contact with the girlfriend, attempting to get her to change testimony, merited declining a request to lower bail. Brooks was found guilty in 2012 and is serving a 36-year sentence at Huntingdon state prison.
A Maryland man had his bail increased after his conviction in 2014. Claudius Taylor was found guilty of charges including robbery, indecent assault and unlawful restraint. Prosecution asked for the increase and then judge Bradley Lunsford granted it, upping it to $1 million. He was later sentenced to up to 13 years, which he is serving at Mercer state prison.
Brian Fisher, of Bellefonte, received a $1 million bail in June 2015 for charges of stalking, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and conspiracy. He pleaded to indirect criminal contempt, criminal mischief, criminal conspiracy and terroristic threats in January 2016 and received a sentence of one year probation.
One of the highest bails in recent years went to a Cambria County man. “Bloods” gang member William Duodo, of Johnstown, was charged with felony possession with intent to deliver and three misdemeanor drug charges in August 2015 and jailed in lieu of $3 million bail. No disposition information is available for his case.
A Meadville man had a $1 million bail set for a high speed chase in Centre County in September 2015, but Dustin Halsaver was sent home to face charges of murdering his father. He never went to trial, hanging himself in his Crawford County jail cell.
Two other million-dollar cases are still in the court system in Centre County.
William Beck, of Bellefonte, was charged with more than 300 counts of various child sex crimes, including aggravated indecent assault, sexual abuse and obscene sexual material in June 2016. He entered a guilty plea in December but withdrew it in March 2017.
Joshua Powell, of Yonkers, N.Y., no longer has that lofty bail. While he did have a case with multiple felony drug convictions set at that amount in August 2016, court records show that case was withdrawn while two others were subsequently filed for crimes including burglary, possession of a prohibited firearm unlawful body armor and possession with intent to deliver. Bail in one case stands at $250,000, while bail in the other is show at $50,000.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel wants to see major changes in how bail is handled.
“The current bail system in Pennsylvania should be eliminated because it too often incarcerates low-risk offenders who cannot afford bail, while allowing high-risk offenders to go free because they can pay bail,” he said. “It is time to re-imagine a system that truly protects its citizens. We should decide who needs to be incarcerated at the pretrial level based on risk to public safety and not the risk of failing to appear in court.”