FLORENCE COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Nicholas Johnson was out on bond awaiting a trial for a double homicide when he was accused of driving a car involved in a shooting that killed one man in May.
Johnson was arrested in June for accessory after the fact of a felony for the killing of Rahiem Fortune, who died in his car at a Darlington apartment complex’s parking lot. In 2017, he was charged with two counts of attempted murder, accused of shooting at people inside of a vehicle.
Johnson is one of a handful of people charged this year in connection with shootings and murders who were out on bond when the new crimes occurred.
But with bond hearings coming down to two factors — if the accused is expected to not show up to their court date, or poses a risk to the community — it’s a problem without a clear solution.
News13 studied more than 100 shooting cases that happened in the first five months of 2021 to see how often those who were charged with murder or attempted murder were already been out on bond. While releases were rare, and no clear pattern appeared in any specific state judicial circuit, there were still cases where people arrested on violent charges were released on bond, and then arrested again in connection to other shootings.
The most common charges found in their backgrounds included drug charges, domestic violence charges, assaults, the illegal possession of weapons, and burglaries.
Out on bond, then arrested again
After being arrested in June in connection to Fortune’s killing, Johnson was then released on a $7,500 bond, according to W. Glenn Campbell Detention Center booking records.
Fortune died after two cars exchanged gunfire, according to authorities. Johnson had previously been charged with two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and possession of a weapons charge in May 2017. He was released from jail on bond that November.
Johnson is one of five people who were charged in connection to the incident, where 21-year-old Randolph Malika McClain and 24-year-old Ahmond Britton were killed. A third person was injured.
According to authorities, Johnson turned himself in after the crime.
The case is still pending. He was released in 2017 on a $40,000 surety bond for the murder charge and received a separate $40,000 surety bond for each of two attempted murder charges. His bond for accessory after the fact to a felony or murder was another $7,500.
Other than traffic tickets, Johnson had not been charged with any previous crimes in Darlington County.
Deonte Hamilton, who was charged with firing a gun into a building this year, was charged in October 2019 with voluntary manslaughter and released on a $7,500 surety bond, according to court records. According to authorities, Hamilton was in a fight where a gun was fired and killed Keith Kevin Larry.
The following day, he was charged with assault/attemped murder and given a $7,500 bond, according to court records.
He was released in late 2020 and was charged with the 2021 shooting after police said he shot into a home in May. No one was injured in the shooting, and he has not received bond for the charge.
News13 reached out to Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington and 4th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Will Rogers for comment and did not hear back before the time of publication.
What goes into bond?
At least two men charged with murder this year — Jamarcus Antwan McLaurin, and Tyrone Addison — were given bonds, according to News13’s analysis, which looked at court records in Darlington, Dillon, Horry, Florence, Marion, and Marlboro counties. McLaurin was originally released on a $95,000 cash surety bond, and Addison was given a $37,500 bond.
Setting bond comes down to a literal case-by-case basis, according to 15th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson.
“Most people go their entire life and never get arrested, but to get arrested, and then turn around and get arrested again on another violent charge, all we can do is argue adamantly and it is up to the judge what they are going to do,” Richardson said.
Police can’t make an arrest unless they have probable cause, which means that they believe that it is more likely than not that someone committed a crime. A bond hearing is the first time a suspect will appear in court after being arrested.
“But a person is presumed to be innocent until they are proven guilty at that point,” Richardson said. “Being arrested isn’t supposed to be a punishment. It is supposed to be just an indication of whether or not this person is a flight risk — that is one — or a danger to the community.”
Those two factors are what a magistrate or a circuit court looks to when setting bond, which is essentially a promise that a suspect will attend their court dates. Richardson said prosecutors can argue that a suspect is a danger to the community if they’ve have recent pending charges or convictions, and then continue to be charged with more crimes.
Someone who is charged can be considered a flight risk if they don’t live in the area, don’t have land nearby or if they don’t have family locally. Richardson said a judge might also say that setting a bond for an earlier crime wasn’t enough to keep them out of jail again, and therefore could deny them bond, or set a higher one.
Someone who has been accused in a random shooting, Richardson said, could be considered more of a danger to the community than someone who is accused of attacking someone in a fight.
“If our opinion is that they shouldn’t get a bond, we push that they have no bond,” he said.
If it’s someone’s first offense, he said prosecutors can’t really make a strong argument that the suspect is a danger to the community.
There are three different types of bonds — a personal recognizance bond, a surety bond and a cash bond.
A personal recognizance bond means that an inmate don’t have to pay any money to leave, only agree to come back, or else they have to pay the bond.
“A PR bond is based on your promise,” Richardson said.
A cash bond means that they have to pay 10% of their bond to be released. If they show up to court, they get that money back.
The most common type of bond is a surety bond, where a bondsman promises the amount that the judge sets. The bondsman then is on the hook for making sure the suspect shows up to court, but Richardson said the bondsman can charge the inmate as low as 2% to get them out of jail, which means that a steep bail isn’t a high obstacle to getting out of jail.
“That’s something that I believe needs to be fixed,” Richardson said. “I believe that there should be some standard that is set, at least the judge knows what they are going to get out on.”
He said that rate has been driven down due to an influx of bondsmen in the area, and that most people on a surety bond are able to get out after paying a bondsman between 6% and 10%.
Lt. Mark Blair, a spokesperson for the Hartsville Police Department, said he doesn’t know if low bail is an issue. The area has seen an unusual influx of gun violence this year.
“We can ask for a higher bond or ask for denial of bond for judges, but that is the judicial side, so we can ask for stuff, but then the judges have rules and regulations they go by,” Blair said.