By: Holly Hansen
During a special meeting of the Harris County Commissioners Court this week, Melanie Infinger provided emotional testimony about the 2019 murder of her daughter Caitlynne Guajardo.
Last August 20-year-old Caitlynne was four months pregnant with her second child, but had filed charges against her husband Alex Guajardo after he allegedly hit her in the face and killed her pet cat.
Since Alex Guajardo, 22, had already been released on personal recognizance (PR) bonds for two DUI charges and a hit-and-run charge, the family believed that Harris County authorities would detain him.
Instead, Harris County Criminal Court 4 released Guajardo on yet another PR bond. Less than 24 hours later he would be re-arrested and charged with the murder of Caitlynne. Police say he stabbed her and her unborn child more than 20 times.
According to Andy Kahan of Crime Stoppers Houston, Caitlynne is just one of more than 50 victims murdered in Harris County by defendants who had been released on multiple felony bonds and PR bonds over the past two years.
Kahan recently began investigating criminal histories of murder defendants in the county and says people’s lives are being destroyed under the guise of criminal justice and bond reform.
“As a victim advocate, it is difficult to explain to families why their loved one was killed,” Kahan says. “It defies logic.”
Although Kahan points out that his organization supports misdemeanor bond reform and criminal justice reform, they oppose the release of career habitual offenders charged with felony crimes. He says district court judges are not bound by terms of a federal ruling on misdemeanor bonds when handling federal charges and that these judges are “the crux of the problem.”
“Time and time again, we’re seeing the same defendants released on multiple bonds, continually being arrested for additional felony crimes and yet are still getting out of jail on new bonds.”
The commissioners court heard from Infinger and several other speakers in response to an agenda item requested by Commissioner Steve Radack (R- Pct. 3) on crime rates in the county.
While recent analysis shows that overall crime has declined under coronavirus conditions, homicides continue to rise in Houston and Harris County, and Radack said homicides have increased by 34 percent this year.
David Cuevas, president of the Harris County Deputies’ Organization, told the court that county law enforcement needed more resources and funding because violent crimes were “out of control.”
“But when the Sheriff asked for additional funding, it was tabled and denied,” said Cuevas.
Professor David S. Abrams, an economist with the University of Pennsylvania, told the court that while he would not dispute the “arithmetic” of increased homicide numbers, he emphasizes that overall crime is down in most urban areas following “stay at home” orders according to his analysis.
Amy Smith of the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council told commissioners that since 2019 at least 5 women had been killed by an intimate partner who was out on numerous PR, felony, and misdemeanor bonds, some in cases where the deceased was the complainant in a prior case.
Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) also noted that according to a report from the Sheriff’s Office, homicides related to domestic violence had increased 120 percent this year.
At previous meetings of the court, commissioners have heard from criminal justice reform groups such as the Justice Management Institute who urged the county to release most defendants from the jail and dismiss pending charges for 12,000 to 18,000 felony suspects.
Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) has been a vocal advocate for criminal justice reforms that include eliminating bail for most felony defendants, and last week sent out a mailer to residents calling criminal justice reforms that would “move away from our oppressive and discriminatory system of mass incarceration” by eliminating cash bail and incarceration for “poverty.”
Melanie Infinger however, asked the court to support a Caitlynne’s Law in Texas that would revise bond release policies for defendants charged with assault and other violent crimes. State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) says he is working on legislation to address the issue.
Although no action was taken by the commissioners court on the agenda item this week, Radack said he would be bringing up the crime rate issue again at future meetings for testimony and possible action.
UPDATE: According to a report from Kahan, as of August 11, another person had been killed by a defendant released on bond, bringing the total to 57 people.
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By: Holly Hansen