2012-02-16 / Front Page

Bail Forfeiture In Murder-Suicide Overturned

District attorney to appeal bail forfeiture case to Pa. Supreme Court
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz
STAFF WRITER

On the heels of a decision handed down by the Pennsylvania Superior Court that a bail bondsman would not have to forfeit $100,000 to Fulton County, a decision has been made at the local level to appeal the matter to the State Supreme Court.

Fulton County District Attorney Travis Kendall told the “News” Monday he believed the Superior Court’s ruling on February 1 in the case of murderer Ricky Hann was “wrong.”

“I intend to seek the allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” he said.

Quoting rules of criminal procedure, Kendall stated, “When ... the defendant has violated a condition of the bail bond, the bail authority may order the cash or other security forfeited.”

“Among the promises that both Hann and the bail bondsman (Paul Weachter) made as conditions of bail were that Hann would not commit new crimes, and would not intimidate or retaliate against any witness. Hann clearly violated the conditions of his bail bond when he murdered (ex-girlfriend) Tina Souders,” added Kendall.

“Other Superior Court panels have set forth the law in Pennsylvania to be that ‘when a defendant breaches a bail bond, without a justifiable excuse, and the government is prejudiced in any manner, the forfeiture should be enforced unless justice requires otherwise. When considering whether or not justice requires the enforcement of a forfeiture, a court must look at several factors, including the willfulness of the defendant’s breach of the bond; the cost, inconvenience and prejudice suffered by the government; and any explanation or mitigating factors.’ The Superior Court in its recent opinion claims that unless the commonwealth lost money it was not prejudiced,” the district attorney stated.

The decision of the Superior Court overturns a decision previously rendered by Fulton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Angela Krom.

In her ruling, Judge Krom said the bondsman made a “professional business decision” to bond Hann in this case, which was a business decision not without some measure of risk. Krom pointed out Weachter acknowledged having failed to review the criminal complaint or the affidavit of probable cause filed by state police Trooper Garry Ford Jr., despite the charges listed on the bail bond.

Among the criminal allegations were kidnapping, burglary, terroristic threats, unlawful restraint, recklessly endangering another person and simple assault. Hann returned to the crime scene within 12 hours of being released from jail, murdered his exgirlfriend and committed suicide

Kendall stated both he and Krom believe the commonwealth and the local community were prejudiced by the murder of Souders and that prejudice means more than simply losing money.

“It includes my inability, because of her murder, to bring Hann to justice for the crimes he committed against her. I will do my best to have the Pennsylvania Supreme Court fix the mistake made by the Superior Court,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Clint Barkdoll, defense attorney, maintained that throughout the duration of this case, his position had been that a bondsman cannot be held financially responsible for the criminal conduct of a defendant.

“I am pleased that the Pennsylvania Superior Court has endorsed this argument,” Barkdoll told the “News.”

“When the trial court originally ordered (bondsman) Weachter to forfeit the $100,000, I received calls from bondsmen throughout Pennsylvania expressing concern about the potential precedent this could set. Some bondsmen actually said they’d stop operating if they would have to forfeit a bond every time a defendant committed another crime while on bail,” said Barkdoll. “So in that respect, I suspect a lot of bondsmen throughout Pennsylvania were very interested to see this Superior Court decision.”

Kendall will have a 30-day time frame beginning retroactive to February 1 to file an appeal with the higher court. The court, at that time, may hear or refuse taking argument.

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