Closings & Delays across the Tennessee Valley

QUESTIONS ANSWERED: Safety concerns over GPS ankle monitoring of suspects charged with violent crimes

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A Madison County judge agreed to let a man charged with capital murder await his trial at home instead of behind bars, if he could pay his bond. That means a suspected killer can live in his neighborhood with a GPS ankle monitor.

The family of Livia Robinson, 3, can only see her in pictures now. Someone shot her inside her home while she stood at the front door. It happened on Murray Road on March 7.

But, the family still has to look at Martin Evenes, 26, Brittany Kingston, 26, and Dominique Russell, 26, every time there's a court date.  They are the three people charged with capital murder in her death.

At Russell's bond hearing in April, a judge set a $250,000 bond. That means if he pays $25,000, he will be free from jail, while wearing a special ankle bracelet.

"We were opposed to it but I understand the judges reasoning for giving him the bond, but part of it was he is on house arrest with a GPS monitor," Tim Gann, Madison County Chief Trial Attorney, said.

Russell is still in the Madison County jail, but if he gets out of the facility, he will stay at his home in Huntsville. We asked Gann if the community should worry.

"If he makes this bond, it would behoove him to do what he's supposed to do because if he doesn't, we'll be filing a motion to have him locked right back up," Gann said.

The Madison County Office of Alternative Sentencing and Release oversees the defendants wearing the GPS ankle monitors. There is a cost for the devices, however, it's not coming out of your pocket.

Defense Attorney Bruce Gardner represents defendants accused of heinous crimes. He is Aziz Sayyed's lawyer, who's the man that pleaded guilty to plotting a terrorist attack in Huntsville.

After Sayyed's arrest, Gardner argued the judge's 250-thousand dollar cash bond was too high. He suggested a lower bond, and as a way to safeguard the community, electronic ankle monitoring.

"It's a wonderful program," Gardner said of GPS ankle monitoring. "If they check on them, if they stray outside anywhere where they're supposed to be, the authorities are alerted."

How GPS Monitoring Works

Electronic monitoring is either after someone is arrested and the judge mandates a GPS tracker after they have posted bond, or a part of a person's sentence following a conviction. A judge can put anyone charged with any crime on a monitoring system.

"A judge will say, 'I'll reduce a bond this amount, but with the condition of that you have to have this bracelet on to prove that you're going to be there,'" Justyn Hayes, Coordinator of the Pre-Trial Release Program, said. "We'll continue monitoring them until the conclusion of their case or the judge deems that they're not a flight risk, or some other details of the case require them not to have it."

Community Supervision Officers at the Madison County Office of Alternative Sentencing set restrictions for a person wearing the monitor.  The people wearing the devices are supervised around the clock by third-party who notifies our local agency if someone is not abiding by the rules. Hayes said it is not easy to take the bracelet off.

"I've had plenty of people tell me they can, but I've told people "show me" and they can't show me," Hayes said. "With how it is, the bracelet, if you try to remove it or take it off, there's fiber-optic cables which are sensitive and they're going to pop and they're going to give us a sensor."

Defendants must wear the bracelet 24 hours a day. Authorities say, if they tamper with it at all, or if the battery goes dead, they know within moments.

"If they cut it, then that's a condition of bond that they've violated and the court frowns upon that," Hayes said.

Officers said they put a beacon in the defendant's home which helps operate the GPS bracelet and the computer software the system runs on.

"There's a motion sensor in it, so any time it's moved, it lets us know," Hayes explained about the beacon.

Hayes couldn't show us the computer program the monitoring system operates on because of sensitive information. But, they say it looks a lot like a Google map with moving dots.

"We can put it in the computer to give us location variances to make sure that you're not where you're not supposed to be," Hayes explained. "Sometimes on a cloudy day, we might be 50-60 feet off on it, but not much."

Some defendants have obligations to their jobs and their families; attorneys say that makes the stakes higher.

"They know it's a condition to stay with their families and stay out of jail," Hayes explained.

Gann said if defendants wearing the device don't follow the rules, they cannot stay at home.

"If he gets out of that range, or does something he's not supposed to do, they will notify us," Gann said. "At that point, we will file a motion for a bond revocation and go back in front of the judge."

Saving Taypayers' Money

Those wearing the monitors absorb all costs of the device. It costs them $10 per day. But, authorities said sitting in jail costs taxpayers between $50 and $60 each day.

That totals some $20,000 per year, per person. Plus, this gives those in this program a chance to keep their job.

The county's probate office said there are between 12 and 15 people wearing a GPS tracker at any time.