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$2,500 bond in Indiana day care shooting sparks outrage

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Friday, February 28, 2014 - 5:20 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — A judge is defending his decision to reduce the bond for an Indianapolis man who police say shot his ex-wife 13 times outside a day care amid an outcry from domestic violence groups who say states need stronger legal tools to keep violent men behind bars.

Advocates had expected Marion County Judge Grant Hawkins to set Christopher Justice's bond at $100,000 on Thursday.

Hawkins set it at $25,000 instead, saying that's 2 times the base amount and he set it based on a mathematical formula that assigns points based on such factors as criminal record, employment and length of residency. Under common bail procedures, a defendant can be released from jail by posting 10 percent of the bond amount.

The judge said $100,000 "is a barely justifiable number."

"The real number is the one we use after we have more information," he said.

Justice, 33, also must turn over his guns and his passport and wear a GPS ankle bracelet. But outraged advocates for domestic violence victims said Friday that no amount of money is enough to guarantee the safety of Shirley Justice, who remained in the hospital 10 days after she was shot.

Christopher Justice's attorney, Jackie Butler, did not return phone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Some experts say money isn't the main concern. They say the real issue has to deal with whether those accused of committing domestic violence should be freed on bond at all.

"The question is, 'Should he be released in the first place?'" said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, incoming executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute in Washington. "There's nothing inherently safe about a dollar amount."

Laura Berry, executive director of the Indiana Domestic Violence Coalition, said authorities in some states can use two tools to keep those with the potential for further violence off the streets: a lethality assessment test and preventive detention.

The Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence website says jurisdictions in 32 states, including Indiana, use the lethality test, in which police work with domestic violence advocates to determine the level of risk victims may face again. In Indiana, the test is used in 13 counties. Marion County uses a portion of it as part of a special project, and it goes into the record to be seen by prosecutors and judges, Berry said.

Although it's tough to judge human behavior, no victim in Indiana has died after taking part in the test, she said.

The test isn't infallible, however. "In this case if this guy did not have a long criminal history or a long history of violence he likely would have scored low," Burdeen said. Justice's lack of criminal history was one of the factors Hawkins said he weighed in setting bond.

Preventive detention is used to keep those with the potential for domestic violence from getting out until they cool off or their victims are safe.

"There is a statute in Indiana that says they must be held for a minimum of eight hours if arrested for domestic violence," Berry said. Justice had already been in custody for a week before bond was set. He was arrested in Kentucky on Feb. 20.

Indianapolis police said Justice shot his ex-wife on Feb. 18, just after she had dropped off her two children at Eagle View KinderCare on the city's northwest side. Court records show the couple has been involved in a custody dispute over their 6-year-old daughter. The records also show that the couple had a tumultuous relationship dating back to at least 2007 and that Shirley Justice filed a complaint in June 2008 saying that her husband "stated to her that he would kill her and her daughter if she leaves him."

"It's not because of a lack of trying on his part that she wasn't killed," said Shirley Justice's attorney, Davina Curry. "There is no doubt that his intention that day was to kill her ... he riddled her with bullets."

She said Shirley Justice's condition remains "touch and go," but that she is "amazingly well for someone who's been shot 13 times."

Curry and Shirley Justice's mother worry about what could happen if Christopher Justice does post bond. Curry said Justice can get out with $2,500 if he turns in his passport and guns and wears a GPS ankle bracelet.

"He wouldn't be the first person to slip that ankle bracelet off," Curry said.