Judge modifies bond to $500K for murder defendant, who is released the same day after 5 years in jail

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Rontarus Washington Jr., center, walks out of the Douglas County Jail with his mother, Kenisha Clark, at left, and a bondsman on July 1, 2020. In the background is Lawrence activist Caleb Stephens.

Story updated at 8 p.m. Wednesday:

A judge on Wednesday lowered by $250,000 the $750,000 bond that has kept a man in jail five years as his murder case is pending in Douglas County District Court.

By 6:45 p.m., 24-year-old Rontarus Washington Jr. had bonded out of the Douglas County Jail and was on his way to get the ankle monitor he’ll be required to wear while he’s out on bond.

The defense team for Washington, attorneys Adam Hall and Angela Keck, requested that Chief Judge James McCabria lower Washington’s bond to $20,000 to make it less financially burdensome while he awaits his retrial. Washington is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with the November 2014 death of his 19-year-old neighbor, Justina Altamirano Mosso.

After hearing arguments, taking a brief recess and sharing his reasoning, McCabria ruled that he would agree to lower the bond to $500,000.

The $500,000 cash or surety bond presumably still required a $50,000 upfront payment before Washington could be released from custody. However, protesters outside the courthouse reported that fundraising efforts for Washington’s bail were going strong since the judge’s ruling. A GoFundMe page reported at about 12:45 p.m. — about 45 minutes after the hearing concluded — that more than $30,000 had been raised for Washington’s bail.

While the hearing was taking place Wednesday morning, a crowd of more than 100 people had gathered outside the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, which is where court cases generally are heard. Wednesday’s hearing was conducted virtually by video because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An audio broadcast of the hearing was played outside the judicial center where the crowd had gathered.

Natasha Neal, an organizer of protesters who have occupied a portion of Massachusetts Street near the courthouse since Saturday, announced to the group that The Raven, a downtown Lawrence bookstore, had offered its business as part of the collateral needed to satisfy Washington’s $500,000 bond.

Danny Caine, owner of The Raven, told the Journal-World that details were still being worked out and that it was his understanding that other entities were also offering to help meet the collateral needs.

“The Raven is helping with collateral,” he said, “not offering the whole business as collateral.”

By 5 p.m., the community crowdfunding had raised enough money to cover the $50,000 surety payment to bond Washington out, and to cover a $2,000 deposit for the electronic ankle monitor.

At the hearing, arguments centered on how large Washington’s bond should be. Alice Walker, senior assistant Douglas County district attorney, argued that a $20,000 cash or surety bond might not ensure that Washington will appear for court. She said the “unusually long case” does not change the state’s allegation against Washington, which is that he committed a “heinous and brutal” murder.

Keck argued that Washington faces an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus, citing how quickly it has spread through other correctional facilities once they have even a single case. She also said she believes he’s not a flight risk.

“He wants to stay here and be an active participant in his defense, and that’s his motive to stay here and not flee as an innocent man — presumed innocent,” Keck said.

A murder trial in Washington’s case ended in a mistrial in October after a jury was unable to reach a verdict. Washington has waived his right to a speedy trial, and his case has stretched on for years as the result of motions made by both the defense and prosecution in the case.

Among factors McCabria also said he’d taken into consideration in his decision was the strength of evidence presented by the state and the defense at Washington’s first trial, which ended with a hung jury in October. Without looking at how strong the evidence was on either side in isolation, “the best we can say is, with at least one jury, there was not enough to go either way,” McCabria said.

McCabria also said it was “troubling” that he did not have any information about the defendant’s family circumstances — for instance, whether his mother, mentioned briefly in the defense motion to lower bond as having moved to Kansas from Mississippi, had taken up permanent residence in Topeka.

Walker said she had looked at other cases of defendants charged with first-degree murder in Douglas County District Court, and $500,000 was the low end of bonds set in those cases. McCabria ultimately agreed to do that, and he said he didn’t want that to be viewed as a “hollow gesture.”

Regarding COVID-19, McCabria said the Douglas County Jail had avoided any outbreaks and was quarantining new inmates for 72 hours to ensure they don’t develop symptoms.

Walker and Hall also argued their positions on the defense’s sealed supplemental bond argument. McCabria eventually ruled that redacted versions of some motions would be unsealed and made available in the public case file.

The defense motion contains a preliminary report from a purported expert that will require further hearings to determine whether it will be admitted to trial, McCabria said, and he thinks its release could prejudice the right to a fair trial.

Washington declined to comment as he left the jail, beaming, in the presence of about 30 friends and supporters, plus reporters from several area media outlets.

However, his mother, Kenisha Clark, told the Journal-World that the fight wasn’t over. Washington’s next court hearing is July 13.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact public safety reporter Mackenzie Clark:

More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case

June 30, 2020: State argues against bond reduction for long-jailed murder defendant Washington, notes that all 11 delays have been at defendant’s request

June 12, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr., jailed 5 years on suspicion of Lawrence murder, to receive new bond hearing; defense alleges misconduct by state

May 4, 2020: DNA testing challenges due to COVID-19 further delay long-pending Lawrence murder case

March 22, 2020: Speedy trial rights are on hold in Kansas. What does that mean for defendants?

March 6, 2020: Retrial date set for Rontarus Washington Jr. in 2014 Lawrence murder case

Feb. 28, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr. defense pursues independent lab to avoid alleged KBI bias in Lawrence murder case

Feb. 24, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr.’s retrial date still pending in Lawrence murder case; DNA testing timeline uncertain

Feb. 3, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr., in jail 5 years in pending Lawrence murder case, will wait longer as defense requests more DNA testing

After the trial — Oct. 7, 2019: In Lawrence murder trial deliberations, majority of jurors flipped votes from not guilty to guilty; new trial scheduled

September 2019 trial

Day 20 — Oct. 4, 2019: Jury unable to reach verdict in 2014 Lawrence murder case; prosecutor wants to try again

Day 19 — Oct. 3, 2019: Lengthy Lawrence murder trial could end with hung jury; deliberations to resume Friday

Day 18 — Oct. 2, 2019: Jury continues deliberating in Lawrence murder trial; will resume Thursday

Day 17, closing arguments — Oct. 1, 2019: Prosecutor rehashes defendant’s story’s ‘progression,’ defense emphasizes passion in closing arguments for Lawrence murder trial

Day 17, last of testimony — Oct. 1, 2019: Longtime Cedarwood resident may have seen Lawrence murder victim kissing an unknown man, he testifies

Day 16 — Sept. 30, 2019: Detective: Husband’s phone was en route to Manhattan at time of Lawrence murder victim’s death

Day 15 — Sept. 27, 2019: Defendant and victim’s husband left prints on toilet tank lid used as weapon in Lawrence murder

Day 14 — Sept. 26, 2019: Expert: Partial DNA on Lawrence murder victim’s nail could link to 1 in 2,000 men

Day 13 — Sept. 25, 2019: Lawrence murder defendant tells police he walked in on body, then they accuse him, video shows

Day 12 — Sept. 24, 2019: Neighbors: Defendant in Lawrence murder case requested ride out of state; victim and husband often had screaming arguments

Day 11 — Sept. 23, 2019: Coroner testifies that Lawrence homicide victim likely died of blood loss from multiple stab wounds and other cuts

Day 10 — Sept. 20, 2019: Co-worker of murder victim’s husband lied to Lawrence police, he says; footwear impression expert testifies

Day 9 — Sept. 19, 2019: Lawrence murder victim’s best friend testifies, alleges domestic abuse in victim’s marriage

Day 8 — Sept. 18, 2019: Investigator gives jury photo walkthrough of crime scene in Lawrence murder case

Day 7 — Sept. 17, 2019: Husband of Lawrence murder victim wants to stay in U.S. only until case wraps, he testifies

Day 6 — Sept. 16, 2019: Lawrence murder victim’s husband recounts alleged infidelity, lack of trust in relationship

Day 5 — Sept. 13, 2019: Lawrence murder victim’s husband believed she was pregnant at time of her death, he testifies

Day 4 — Sept. 12, 2019: Cousin testifies about last time she saw Lawrence murder victim alive

Day 3 — Sept. 11, 2019: With jury selected, Lawrence murder trial to proceed

Day 2 — Sept. 10, 2019: Prosecutor questions jury pool about graphic photos, domestic violence, biases in Lawrence murder trial

Day 1 — Sept. 9, 2019: Jury selection begins in trial for 2014 Lawrence murder

Before trial

Sept. 5, 2019: Lawrence murder case, pending since 2014, set for trial next week

March 19, 2019: Last-minute access to victim’s phone prompts another delay for murder trial of Lawrence man now jailed 4-plus years

Feb. 21, 2019: 4 years after slaying, Lawrence homicide victim’s phone may finally be unlocked

Dec. 28, 2018: Defense continues dissecting evidence in murder case against man arrested 4 years ago

Dec. 23, 2018: Citing alleged missteps in 30-year-old New York case, defense lawyer demands coroner be barred from 2 Lawrence murder trials

Oct. 17, 2018: Trial now set to begin 4 years after man’s arrest in slaying of woman at Cedarwood Apartments

June 1, 2018: Douglas County Jail’s longest-serving inmate asks for murder trial to be delayed again

Nov. 19, 2017: Psychologists fill in picture of man accused of violently stabbing young Lawrence woman to death

Oct. 23, 2017: Mental competency evaluation for Cedarwood Apartments murder suspect done, but disputed

May 16, 2017: Competency evaluation ordered for man accused in 2014 Cedarwood Apartments slaying

Sept. 4, 2015: Homicide victim’s husband recounts ‘bad’ relationship with wife; man charged in death bound over for trial

Sept. 3, 2015: Coroner: November stabbing death of Lawrence woman, 19, was ‘overkill,’ ‘personal’

April 20, 2015: Homicide victim’s ex ordered to appear at preliminary hearing; affidavit sheds more light on the killing

March 16, 2015: Lawrence man charged with murder in death of woman at Cedarwood apartments

Jan. 16, 2015: Mississippi officials unsure when homicide suspect may have extradition hearing; accused was victim’s neighbor

Jan. 15, 2015: Man arrested in connection with November murder of 19-year-old Lawrence woman

Dec. 2, 2014: Police: Still no arrest in woman’s homicide, language barrier an added hurdle to investigation

Nov. 25, 2015: Cedarwood homicide victim buried in Mexico

Nov. 18, 2014: Police identify homicide victim at Cedarwood Apartments as 19-year-old woman

Nov. 11, 2014: No arrests, suspects in Cedarwood possible homicide; investigators remain on scene

Nov. 10, 2014: Police investigating possible homicide at Cedarwood apartments


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