HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- When a judge sentenced the man who killed Dena Evans' father to 95 years in prison back in 1995, she believed he would spend his life locked up.
After 27 years, Jonathan Deandre Bailey was released. Evans said it feels like a slap in the face.
She was 8 years old when her father, Lawyer Evans Sr., was murdered. She remembers it vividly.
Evans and her brother went to school that day. Her mother went to work.
Her father had several jobs. Evans' father was a barber, schoolteacher, and had previously worked as a Harris County sheriff's deputy.
On Jan. 8, 1992, he didn't make it to work. The father of two spent time at home installing a new answering machine and left what would be his final message to his family.
"I'll talk to you later on today," Lawyer said in the recording. "Bye."
Later that day, he ended up back at home to drop off groceries.
"My theory is they were in the garage waiting for him to come this way and they surprised him," Evans told ABC13, during an interview conducted in the same room her father was killed. "There was furniture turned all the way over in the house. Chairs turned over, ransacked. My bedroom was ransacked. Everybody's room was ransacked, everybody's. At some point, they had to have had his gun and held it to his head for him to open that safe."
Evans' brother, who was 14 at the time, got home from school to find his father lying dead in their living room with a gunshot wound to the head.
The young girl's aunt picked her up from school that day and drove her home. She remembers her street being lined with emergency vehicles and her mother breaking down in a way she had never seen before.
Evans said no one would tell her what was going on, including a police officer standing in her driveway.
"I said, 'Excuse me, sir. Is my daddy dead?'" Evans remembered. "He still didn't look at me. He did, but he had to look back up and keep himself together."
She said their world was shattered that day.
The 8-year-old sat at the kitchen table and had dinner while her family cleaned up her father's blood from their living room carpet.
In the days to come, Evans and her mother went to the medical examiner's office, where her father's body was stored.
"I went up to the table right beside him. And I touched his hand, arm kind of area, and I said, 'Daddy,' and he didn't say anything to me," Evans said. "I said it again, and he didn't say anything to me. And I guess that's when I really learned what death really was."
About two months went by, and no one had been arrested.
Evans remembers going to school and seeing the Crime Stoppers flyers with her father's picture posted.
Houston police had a break in the case. The family's neighbor, Bailey, who was 15 at the time, was arrested and charged as an adult in his murder. He lived two houses away.
"We knew who he was," Evans said. "If we go outside and we see him, we knew who he was."
The family does not believe he acted alone, but he was the only one charged in the deadly home invasion.
Bailey was convicted of murder in 1995 and sentenced to 95 years in prison.
"For me at the developmental age that I was, it was hope for me, because you did this to my dad - you're going to jail," she said. "I held on to that."
The time finally came for Evans, her mother and her brother to heal mentally and emotionally from the trauma they did not ask for.
The letters from the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles started coming three years after Bailey was locked up, according to Evans.
Every year since she was 13 years old, Evans and her family wrote to the board asking them to keep their father's killer behind bars.
"You have to open up your trauma, your experience, and tell these people, 'Why do I feel like he should stay behind bars,'" Evans said. "What do you mean? What did we have a trial for? What was the purpose of a jury of 12 jurors? What was the purpose of it? What was the purpose of all of that evidence? What was the purpose of all of this testimony? What was the point of the jury deciding you went to this man's house, broke in, stole his gun, ransacked his house, stole out of his safe and then blew his brains all over the wall and left him for dead?"
Despite picking up an additional charge in prison for having a prohibited item in a correctional facility, Bailey, who is now 47 years old, was released on parole this past March.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said he was sent to a facility in northeast Texas, where he is under constant supervision. He also has to wear an ankle monitor.
Evans' family is dumbfounded.
"I think that is something the public is not always aware of," Dr. Kimberly Dodson, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at UH Clear Lake, said. "Just because you receive a 95-year sentence, you're probably going to serve a percentage."
Dodson, who also once worked as a probation and parole officer, said several factors determine if someone is released on parole, including the seriousness of their offense, the age when the crime was committed, if they had any infractions in prison, if they have shown improved behavior, and if they have taken responsibility for the crime.
The most recent report from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles shows the approval rating for offenders released on parole in fiscal year 2021:
- 38.4% of violent aggravated non-sexual offenders
- 45.6% of violent aggravated sexual offenders
- 32.7% of violent non-aggravated, non-sexual offenders
- 35.3% of non-aggravated sexual offenders
- 42.6% of non-violent offenders
The report goes on to show that the percentage of offenders who applied for and were granted parole has increased from 26.26% in 2006 to 38.47% in 2021.
"The public would be outraged, I think, if they knew how this sentencing scheme really worked," Dodson said. "People want to think there's truth in sentencing. They want to think 95 years is 95 years, but it has never been that way."
Texas does not have "truth in sentencing" laws, like some other states, which require an offender to serve all or the majority of their sentence.
Dodson explained that policy is not always the best because it can lead to overcrowding in prisons, which is something that facilities have rigorous standards to avoid.
According to a TDCJ spokesperson, its facilities were at 93.7% capacity as of March.
"If you're sending hundreds of thousands of people to prison, you're going to have to do something on the back end to relieve that overcrowding," Dodson explained.
The reasoning behind it is insignificant to the victims' families.
"It seems like the criminal gets all the breaks," Lee, Lawyer's wife, told ABC13 shortly after her husband's murder. "The victim, you make it the best way you can."
Evans echoes her mother's sentiment 31 years later.
She said she has not heard an apology, a why, or what has been done to rehabilitate the man who took her father's life.
"I think that it's kind of a feel good policy for the public," Dodson said. "Currently in Texas, there are actually very few rehabilitative programs that are being implemented the way they should."
To Dena Evans, this is another defeat. She called the system in place for victims' families a "placebo."
"If you're going to let him out in 27 years, just tell us at trial, you know? 'We are just going to give him these 27 years and you're going to have to deal with that,'" Evans said. "Why lie or make us feel like we've got this closure or this ray of hope that we can hold on to while we are trying to rehabilitate our own selves and get back on track? Then, years later, 'Oh you know what? Your dad's life didn't matter. All that trauma you went through? Oh, that didn't matter. We are going to let him out on parole.' That's exactly what we feel like."
Now in her 30s, Evans has followed in her father's footsteps. She works in education and also as a hairdresser.
In her role as an educator, Evans tries to encourage children who have lost parents not to give up on themselves no matter how hard the grief journey gets.
She also tries to encourage parents to take time with their children to model positive behavior.
"I have a loving family, a healthy family dynamic in my household, but someone's family exposes them to childhood trauma, and that person came into my house and exposed my family and me to childhood trauma," Evans said. "From my childhood traumas. I had so many psychological warfares."
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