California bail reform activists might have a new poster child.
Eighteen-year-old suspect Cameron Terrell is facing one count of murder, two counts of premeditated attempted murder and enhancement allegations that he participated in an October killing to benefit his predominantly African-American gang, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office complaint filed against him.
But Terrell, a white teen from upscale Palos Verdes Estates, was bailed out of jail in time to reportedly be spotted at Dodger Stadium enjoying a World Series game with his parents.
"It is rare" for someone suspected in a gang-related murder to be walking free within days, says attorney John Raphling, a West L.A.–based senior researcher for the nonprofit Human Rights Watch, which has been campaigning for bail reform in the Golden State.
The story of Terrell's background was published recently by the South Bay's Daily Breeze newspaper. Police told the publication Terrell wasn't the alleged shooter but could be prosecuted just the same because they believe he was the getaway driver. The victim, 21-year-old Justin Alongino Holmes, was gunned down at 78th Street and Western Avenue in South Los Angeles.
Arrested Oct. 12 for the Oct. 1 shooting, Terrell was out in seven days after his bail was posted, according to sheriff's inmate records. According to the Daily Breeze, "Property records show the Terrells live in a 3,871-square-foot house with assessed value of $1.8 million."
Raphling says this case could highlight the huge disparity in a bail system criticized for being more about money than about flight risk or the severity of allegations. He says that while Terrell walks, for now, homeless people are in jail for minor charges such as trespassing because they can't afford bail.
"Having bailed out, he will have so many advantages in fighting this case that the others presumably remaining
in custody will not have," Raphling says. "It will be easier to meet with his attorney. He'll be able to show up in court in his own clothing. He'll be able to walk through the front door with jurors. His preparation will be less pressured. He'll be able to get a good night's sleep before court."
Raphling also stresses that Terrell should be presumed innocent, and that it's possible the cops' contention that this was a gang killing and that the teen was a member might not pan out. "Accusations of gang membership are often highly overblown," he says.
Journalist and political commentator Jasmyne Cannick says the case shows how justice is different for the white and wealthy in California.
"The simple fact that, after being charged with murder and attempted murder, he could receive bail speaks volumes about the disparate treatment of blacks and Latinos in similar situations," she says. "When white people are accused of murder they are given every benefit of the doubt and presumed innocent until a jury says otherwise. Cameron Terrell, like any other black or Latino person charged with murder, should be in jail without the benefit of bail. Period."
Los Angeles Police Department investigators say victim Holmes was with two friends who were leaving a business at 11:25 a..m. when they were confronted by suspects, including Terrell's two juvenile co-defendants, who have not been identified because of their age.
"The group walked south on Western Avenue, around the corner onto 78th Street, where they were confronted by two armed suspects," according to an LAPD statement. "The suspects asked Holmes and his friends where they were from. One of the suspects fired multiple shots, striking Holmes. The suspects then fled the area in a vehicle."
The victim died at a hospital. A coroner's report says he was shot in the back. "Neither Holmes or his friends were involved in gang activity," according to the LAPD.
Cops and prosecutors didn't name the gang they believe to be involved in the case, but a music video in which Terrell appears touts a subset of the Neighborhood Crips. (The video, below, contains NSFW lyrics.)
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Harvard's Criminal Justice Policy Program recently released a report on California's bail system that concludes most people behind bars in the Golden State are awaiting trial and sentencing — and likely wouldn't be there if they had the cash.
"Money bail has no link to public safety," according to the report. "In fact, bail is 'unnecessarily risky: defendants with financial resources can purchase release even if there is a high risk that they will engage in pretrial misconduct.'"
Justice reform groups are lobbying for the passage of active California legislation by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg of Van Nuys and Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Oakland that would make release after arrest more dependent on pretrial assessments of flight risk than about how much money a suspect can access.