SPECIAL REPORT (WVLT)- It's a scary thought, accused criminals let out of jail for whatever they can bargain for, ready to strike again.
And what's more, it's not illegal.
When someone is arrested and booked into the jail, most of the time, they can get a chance to bond out.
The court sets a price, sometimes it's thousands of dollars. Then bail agents work a deal with the suspect.
And you might be surprised to find out, a dangerous person could walk free, for just pennies on the dollar.
A quarter of a million dollars, not high enough to keep Shawn Smoot, accused murderer in jail.
Now, he's out and another woman has filed an order of protection against him while he waits for his trial.
So what's keeping the offenders from walking out of those doors from striking again? That's the frightening part, nothing.
Let's break it down.
If an accused criminal's bail is set at say 100-thousand dollars, you probably think it takes 10 percent to get them out.
Well, think again.
"There's a law that saws the most a bondsman can charge is 10 percent but, the bondsman and the criminal defendant can negotiate some other payment so that happens from time to time," says District Attorney General Dave Clark.
It's a bargain. With a down payment of just 5 percent or even less, that person is free and free to strike again
"It does pose a problem, and it happens because our justice system is overcrowded," says Clark, "sometimes the people accused of committing one crime then commit other crimes."
Putting families at risk like this one. A young mother in Sevier County had an order of protection against her husband.
He violated that order.
Deputies arrested him but he made bond and attacked her again.
"She had thought he left but, turns out he had been hiding in a closet," says her father Winston Burbage, "he came up and started yelling at her for a while, my daughter said he grabbed her face and went to the door and held a shotgun up against her face."
Now Phillip McWilliams is back in jail, this time, no chance for bond.
Burbage says he finds comfort knowing he's in jail,
"We've been high alert, we've had extra patrols on our house even installed additional security lighting."
Something the DA's office wishes they could do more often.
"Often times we wish there were higher bond amounts, we wish there were more jail cells to hold them in. Quite frankly, we have to ration jail beds not just in Anderson County but all across the state," says Clark.
The result of an overcrowded justice system and bondsmen anxious to make a quick buck.
So the state is looking at different options to keep us safe.
"There are new devices that defendants can wear on their ankles that can track them with GPS devices."
Keeping these criminals locked up inside their own homes is one option.
But Clark admits that's not a foolproof.
"You can cut those off of their feet and we've had that happen a couple of times," he says.
And if a client does take off -- the bail bond company is obligated to pay the courts.
But, that's little comfort for families living in fear.
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