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Sue Carlton: Buying bail: Another sign of lopsided justice?

John Welden, accused of slipping an abortion pill to his ex-girlfriend, is escorted Friday from the federal courthouse in Tampa after being released on bail. The 28-year-old son of a Lutz fertility doctor is charged with murder but was released under around-the-clock surveillance. Private security will guard him at a cost of about $50 to $70 an hour while he lives at his parents’ home.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

John Welden, accused of slipping an abortion pill to his ex-girlfriend, is escorted Friday from the federal courthouse in Tampa after being released on bail. The 28-year-old son of a Lutz fertility doctor is charged with murder but was released under around-the-clock surveillance. Private security will guard him at a cost of about $50 to $70 an hour while he lives at his parents’ home.

Every week, families shattered by tragedy trudge into courthouses, trying to get back to something near normal, if just for a little while.

They file into bail hearings in hopes of bringing him home, the son or husband or someone else accused of a crime horrific or just stupid. Parents are there to try to spare a child even one more night in jail, no matter how grown the child, no matter how terrible the charge, no matter how bleak his chances at trial.

Everyone is innocent until a judge or a jury says different, and so a lot of the accused get to go home with reasonable assurances that they'll be back for their court hearings. Judges decide the ones who shouldn't. It's our system, however imperfect.

All of which is why the issue of bail for a man named John Andrew Welden in federal court doesn't say much about justice for all.

Not that anything about the murder case against Welden, the 28-year-old son of a Lutz fertility doctor, has been standard-issue. He is accused of tricking his pregnant ex into taking an abortion drug he labeled as an antibiotic, causing her to miscarry. He's charged with murder under what's called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

If Welden is convicted as charged, he spends the rest of his life in prison, a mandatory sentence.

A judge minced no words about the potential impact of this at an early bail hearing: "Putting it bluntly," Magistrate Judge Anthony Porcelli said to defense attorney Todd Foster, "your client would be a fool not to run if I release him."

Enter the Bernie Madoff factor.

Welden was able to get his pretrial release in part because of a factor similar to how the infamous white-collar criminal guaranteed his own court appearances: by being able to provide around-the-clock surveillance of himself at his own cost.

Welden will be watched by two private security officers while he lives at his parents' home at an estimated price tag of $50 to $70 an hour.

And I get the cold, hard logic in this.

He was a flight risk. His lawyers did an excellent job of fighting to eliminate that risk. Parents were willing to secure bond with property they own. There will be a GPS. And that private security detail. Makes sense, right?

Pinned to a wall by my desk is a cartoon torn from the New Yorker — getting yellow with age, but on point every time I read it. A lawyer is saying across the desk to a prospective client, "You have a pretty good case, Mr. Pitkin. How much justice can you afford?"

The grim reality is that justice can cost, that an overworked, underpaid, just-out-of-law-school public defender and a top-dollar lawyer may not be equals.

Serious money might not buy you an acquittal, but it can sure get some excellent jury consultants, experts and legal talent.

Maybe you can't blame parents who would do anything to get a child home in his own bed, even a full-grown child.

But it rubs me wrong. What about families equally desperate to have their sons home but unable to pay for private guards to make it happen?

I guess I want to see a man judged on whether he is a flight risk or a danger, or not, and sent home, or not, without the size of his family bank account as a factor beyond setting a fair bail amount.

I guess our justice system already seemed lopsided enough.

Sue Carlton: Buying bail: Another sign of lopsided justice? 07/05/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 5, 2013 10:53pm]
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