Baytown murder suspect had been released early

April 16, 2010 4:12:41 PM PDT
The man accused of killing Baytown teenagers Chelsy Lang and Ashley Johnson appeared in court Friday, charged with capital murder. It's a crime that one victim's advocate says should never have happened. In fact, the suspect would have been in jail the day they were killed, but he had been released early.

Joseph Jean, 37, is facing capital murder charges over the deaths of cousins Chelsy Lang, 16 and Ashley Johnson, 16. Their bodies were found Sunday in a burning Baytown home.

Jean appeared Friday morning in an orange jail jumpsuit with his hands cuffed behind his back. He was granted a court-appointed attorney, telling the court he went to the home of his ex-girlfriend to start a fire.

What he's charged with though are the murders of the two girls inside. Police say the cousins were bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat before the fire was ignited.

In a warrant released Thursday, Jean is said to have claimed the girl surprised him at the house. He had, according to witnesses, argued with the mother of one of the girls the night before the murder in a Houston club.

Jean was in and out of prison for 20 years, averaging about one charge per year, yet he was released from prison seven months early. Some people believe that is one more element to an already tragic story.

"From my perspective, you had somebody who was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode," said Andy Kahan, crime victims advocate.

In 2006, Jean was arrested for breaking into the house of his girlfriend at the time, Victoria Wiley. Her daughter Chelsy was the one who called police. He beat Wiley for reporting the burglary case to authorities which sent him to prison. He was paroled and while out he made threatening phone calls to Wiley which sent him back to prison, where he was supposed to remain until May of this year.

"If that decision would have stood up, obviously we're not talking today and the two girls are alive and none of this happens. However, by statue, he's also eligible for what's called discretionary mandatory release," said Kahan.

That gives the prison board discretion over the early release of inmates. In recent weeks there was another high-profile case involving another discretionary release - Mabry Landor, convicted of killing Houston Police Department Officer Tim Abernethy. Landor too was granted parole, after which he killed Officer Abernethy. Like Landor, Jean's case was rejected by the board which reversed itself only two months later.

"I think the purpose for discretionary mandatory release was for offenders who have little or no criminal history, to get them out," said Kahan. "But for guys who demonstrate repeatedly that they're going to commit crimes, I don't think the intent was for them to get out. But somehow they are."

Kahan believes that the legislature should impose some restrictions on that policy when it meets again next year.

Jean is charged with one count of capital murder - one charge for the two girls - as well as starting the fire. He is being held in Harris County jail without bond.

The girls' funeral service will be held on Tuesday. An account has been set up at Bank of America by Victoria Wiley's employer for public donations for the family.


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