A Jackson County judge released a convicted killer on bond late Tuesday despite protests from prosecutors that he was dangerous and could flee.
Larry Clay, 55, was released from the Jackson County Detention Center about 11:45 p.m., according to county jail reports. A jury convicted Clay on Jan. 23 of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the March 2013 killing of Joel Matthew White, who was visiting Clay’s home.
Clay had been jailed while awaiting his sentencing hearing on Feb. 25.
After the verdict, prosecutors had asked that Clay be held without bond.
“Strongly, I believe Larry Clay belongs in custody,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Wednesday. “When the jury rendered its verdict, no bond should have been issued. Larry Clay does not belong in the community.”
White, 44, died early March 4, 2013, on Clay’s driveway in south Kansas City. Witnesses reported that an argument had erupted inside Clay’s home, where Clay, White and two other men had been socializing.
The dispute moved outside. Witnesses later said Clay pointed a firearm at White and fired. They described Clay as the aggressor.
Clay told investigators that White was the aggressor. But police reviewed a video of the shooting that “contradicted Clay’s description of how the shooting occurred,” court records said.
News of Clay’s release came as a blow to White’s family, said his stepson, Kaylin Howard of Sacramento, Calif.
“If someone’s convicted of murder, they should never be released,” Howard said. “This was a tragic loss for our family. I don’t agree with this.”
Constance White, the victim’s older sister, moved from California to Kansas City two years ago to attend Clay’s court dates and assume her brother’s role as caretaker for their 85-year-old mother.
She said Wednesday that she was dismayed and upset with Clay’s release.
“We’re trying to see this through, and we’re not really getting any satisfaction,” White said. “It blows my mind how this can happen.”
Before trial, Clay was free on bond while being supervised by the county’s house arrest program, which provides for electronic monitoring. Clay had no problems while on house arrest, his lawyer, Russell L. Powell, noted in a court filing.
Immediately after the verdict, Jackson County Circuit Judge Kathleen A. Forsyth said Clay could remain free on bond if he posted 10 percent of a $225,000 bond and continued to participate in the county’s house arrest program.
He posted the bond Jan. 29, court records said. But the house arrest program rejected Clay because it does not accept defendants convicted of “murder or certain sex offenses,” court records said.
In a Feb. 3 motion, Clay’s lawyer proposed having him pay a private firm, Electronic Sentencing Alternatives of Blue Springs, to monitor him on house arrest “lockdown.” Under those conditions, he could not leave his home except for court appearances or emergency medical treatment.
ESA provides similar monitoring services in drunken-driving cases.
Valerie Hartman, a spokeswoman for the courts, noted that after the verdict in January the judge increased Clay’s bond from $125,000 to $225,000, which was consistent with the Jackson County bond guidelines for serious felonies such as second-degree murder.
Hartman also noted that a recent policy change by the County House Arrest, or CHA, program not to monitor those convicted of murder dictated the judge’s decision to go with a private company. The judge would have preferred that the county program monitor Clay, Hartman noted.
“However, given that the county refuses to comply with the court’s order, the court has amended its bond order to allow for monitoring by a private company under conditions similar to CHA lockdown,” Hartman said in a written statement.
Prosecutors, who had asked for a $250,000 cash-only bond when they charged Clay in 2013, last week opposed the release plan, arguing that he posed a flight risk and a danger to the community.
Clay faces a possible life sentence, a prosecutor noted.
“The defendant has been convicted … of one of the most serious criminal offenses of this state,” assistant prosecutor Matthew Moeder wrote in a court filing.
Moeder also questioned ESA’s capacity to manage Clay. The company does not have the authority to haul him back to jail should he commit a violation, Moeder wrote. Nor can it direct law enforcement to arrest him.
“ESA simply cannot (assure) the court or this community that the defendant in this case will not commit any additional crimes or flee from the area to avoid sentencing,” Moeder wrote.
On Friday, Forsyth signed an order permitting Clay’s release, provided he could pay the bond and be monitored by ESA.