Harris County district attorney says rising murder rate highlights urgent need for jury trials

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Friday, May 7, 2021
Ogg says Houston murder crisis demands reboot of county courts
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg tells ABC13 the sky high murder rate is highlighting an urgent need to restart jury trials.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The numbers behind the headlines in Houston are chilling.

From January to May of this year alone, our city saw 146 murders, an 84% increase since 2019, according to a 13 Investigates analysis of Houston Police data.

As the city grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, homicides rose 42% over 2019 and 30,000 more crimes were reported in 2020.

"Police in Houston are drinking from a fire hose," said Rania Mankarious, Crime Stoppers of Houston's CEO.

Thursday night, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg were among the leaders answering your questions during an ABC13 town hall, focused on Houston's rising homicide and violent crime rates.

Upon being sworn in on April 5, Finner said he recognized the need to foster more team work as he looked at the criminal justice system as a whole.

"It's not just a police problem," the chief said, who blamed a perfect storm of factors that have contributed to the rise in crime: Hurricane Harvey, COVID-19 and the city's most violent offenders being released on bond, sometimes multiple times.

Since 2018, at least 116 people have been murdered or killed in Harris County, allegedly by defendants released on multiple felony bonds, felony PR bonds and bond forfeitures, says Andy Kahan, who directs victim services at Crime Stoppers.

Victim services advocate Andy Kahan and Harris Co. DA

"This brings up a huge issue," said Crime Stoppers of Houston director of victim services Andy Kahan about a report that aired on ABC13 about a woman who was stabbed to death at a Walgreens. Click play to hear him take his concerns to Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.

"We don't know how many defendants right now are currently being supervised, particularly by Harris County pre-trial with an ankle monitor," Kahan said. "We don't know how many of them have removed their ankle monitor, we don't know how many people are on bond forfeiture. I would think that those who do support criminal justice in bail reform would want to have these answers."

Thursday night after months of criticism, the district attorney drew a line in the sand on bail and bonds in Harris County, the topic on the minds of many ABC13 viewers we heard from before the town hall.

"The district attorney does not set bail, only judges can set bail. I don't let anybody out," Ogg said. "We do not agree that bail should be given to repeat violent offenders. This is a major problem."

While Ogg said her office is fighting to revoke bonds and prioritizing prosecution of violent criminals, she concedes there are parts of the justice system she can't control.

"We ask that (criminals) be held with sufficiently high bonds or no bond to protect the public, but there's a missing piece here," Ogg said. "We've got to get jury trials going again."

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ogg said only eight district court felony cases were tried from March 2020 until March 2021.

"Our justice system without trials is like a clogged up drain, and the only way to unclog it and keep your sink from overflowing with dangerous people in their community is to get them to trial faster," Ogg said. "We need the public to tell our elected (judges) that this is not acceptable, and that the solution is to try cases."

Anyone with information on homicides and violent crimes can make an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers of Houston online or by dialing 713-222-TIPS (8477).

Watch a recap of the event, live newscasts and in-depth reporting from ABC13 on your favorite streaming devices, like Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and Google TV. Just search "ABC13 Houston."