Elderly Suspect in $7 Robbery Freed in Push for Bail Reform

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A 64-year-old arrestee whose $350,000 bail led to a seminal appellate ruling on bail reform in California was released from jail Thursday by a San Francisco trial judge, who admonished the man not to do anything that might land him back in court.

“You’ve become a symbol for something, so there’s a little bit of extra weight on your shoulders,” San Francisco Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy told Kenneth Humphrey at a bail hearing.

Conroy ordered Humphrey placed into the residential recovery facility Golden Gate for Seniors pending the outcome of his residential robbery case. The retired shipyard worker is charged with robbing his 79-year-old, disabled neighbor of $7 and a bottle of cologne in May 2017.

Humphrey’s bail was initially set at $600,000 by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Joseph Quinn, who later lowered it to $350,000 – prompting Humphrey’s lawyers to file a habeas corpus petition.

In January, the First Appellate District ruled bail can only be used if there is no other less restrictive way of ensuring a defendant’s future court appearances, and that bail cannot be set without considering a defendant’s ability to pay. It also ordered a new bail hearing for Humphrey.

Arguing for Humphrey to remain incarcerated at a hearing Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Courtney Burris told Conroy the case was about more than just a few dollars and some cologne. Burris recounted Humphrey’s past criminal record where he had stalked and robbed at least two women; one at knifepoint.

Conroy declined to rule on whether Humphrey should stay in jail until Thursday when he could hear from the neighbor, Elmer Johnson. Humphrey has been in jail since May 2017.

But on Thursday, Johnson was a no-show in court. Prosecutors said he’s currently bedridden in a rehabilitation facility but spoke with him on Wednesday. According to prosecutors, Johnson said he’d like to cooperate in the case and while he didn’t have a position on whether Humphrey should be released, he’s concerned that Humphrey may come after him.

Humphrey’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Anita Nabha, read Conroy a transcript of what Johnson actually said about whether Humphrey should be released. “That’s a tough question to answer,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if he might come after me. Then again, he might not.” On the robbery, he said, “I’ve almost forgotten about it. I don’t have feelings about it, to tell you the truth.”

Conroy said he would release Humphrey in light of “changed circumstances” regarding the availability of alternatives to detention, including the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department’s recent decision not to charge electronic monitoring fees.

Given Humphrey’s past, Conroy said, he would not have released him on his own recognizance. But he felt comfortable releasing him with strict conditions like electronic monitoring, 24-hour home detention, and the stipulation that he can be searched at any time without a warrant.

“This isn’t a situation where money should play any role. Make no mistake about it, this is a detention case,” Conroy said. “This isn’t about poor people being kept in jail versus rich people.”

Outside the courtroom, attorneys with the public defender’s office were ecstatic.

“He’s obviously very happy that’s he’s going to be able to continue this fight outside of jail,” Nabha said. “As he’s been in custody, he has a lot of people who have been rooting for him and supporting him and bringing by the news articles sharing with him the stories that they’ve read, and letting him know what he’s done has meant a lot to so many people who would have been incarcerated but for him being willing to work with us and take on this fight.”

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi agreed.

“This is a monumental decision today by the judge,” Adachi said. “Bail reform looked very bleak. Mr. Humphrey’s appeal really put a spotlight on the inequity in the bail system. And the court of appeal for the first time announced that the bail system is a tax on the poor.”

Adachi likened Humphrey’s case to Gideon v. Wainwright, a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established the right to counsel for all criminal defendants.

“This case is in many ways analogous to Gideon. This case is being heralded throughout the country as an example of how the bail system is changing,” he said.

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