Homicide suspect and accomplice's release widely criticized in South Bay

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo says the criminal justice system has failed in a homicide case despite a state Supreme Court case that ruled defendants can't be held solely on the basis of whether or not they can afford to pay bail even if they're charged with a homicide – and in this case, the defendants are arguing self defense. 

Still, the mayor issued a statement Tuesday night condemning the Nov. 10 release of two homicide suspects without bail, the same day the police department criticized the move on social media causing a frenzy. 

"I appreciate the purpose of bail reform, but releasing a homicide suspect without bail is outrageous. The pendulum has swung too far, and it’s our neighborhoods that endure the most crime that suffer as a result," Liccardo wrote. 

San Jose police were also mad.  

"Yes you read that correctly," the media relations department tweeted. "Two homicide suspects, charged, out of custody. Our community deserves better, the victim’s family deserve better. The taking of someone’s life is the ultimate crime. The system has failed."

The case in question involves two men accused in a deadly San Jose Halloween shooting. 

Efrain Anzures, 27, and Alfred Castillo, 26, both of San Jose, were arrested earlier this month. Anzures was booked into county jail on suspicion of homicide while Castillo was booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and being an accessory to homicide, police said.

Ultimately, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Philip Pennypacker decided that Anzures can be released on home arrest with an ankle monitor and Castillo must appear in court on his own recognizance. 

"I’m very surprised and disappointed and frankly just concerned for our community that these two individuals were released," said Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who weighed in on Wednesday. 

The Mercury News cites a criminal complaint identifying the person killed as Isiah Gonzalez.

Despite the public anger, Anzures' attorney, Renee Hessling, told KTVU on Wednesday that her client is innocent until proven guilty and criticized the police and mayor for turning the "Humphrey" court ruling into a political flashpoint.  

Her client is not a danger to anyone, she said, emphasizing that he is currently a student and working to support his family. 

"Why this has made all of a sudden a splash in the headlines, in my opinion, is due to the fact that police are upset Mr. Anzures is released, and they are upset generally about similar criminal justice reforms that are now affecting our system," she said. "They [police] want every problem to be solved in one single way, which is, put people in jail and throw away the key without taking into consideration any of the important factors about the individual."

She added: "For them to be outraged by the fact that he is allowed to continue living his law-abiding life, is just reflective of their overall opinion of criminal justice reform."

MORE: New TikTok 'door-kicking' craze had law enforcement watching

In an interview, Sean Pritchard, president of the San Jose Police Officer Association, said he does not support no-cash bail.

"This is just one example of many, throughout California and the country," he said. "Maybe they haven't done anything today but that's not to say they won't do something tomorrow. If that happens, then what? How do we explain that to the next victim?"

The San Jose POA is part of a national law enforcement group comprised of seven police unions that this week launched a website called "ACLU Watch," which is critical of the civil rights organization for protecting "some of the worst elements of our society." 

While it has been rare to release homicide suspects on bail, as is standard in criminal cases, prosecutors often argue to keep defendants in jail at high bails and defense attorneys argue the opposite, typically providing the court with information such as their clients' work history and community involvement. 

A judge then makes a decision on whether a defendant will be a flight risk or cause harm if released into the community as they await trial or other legal proceedings. A judge would also weigh whether the defendants had a prior criminal history, which Anzures did not. 

Legal analyst Steven Clark told KTVU on Wednesday said that in this case, the judge looked at the underlying facts presented to him, which defense attorneys argued was a case of self defense. Anzures shot and killed a person whom his lawyer said was driving recklessly through his neighborhood when he started driving toward him when he fired his gun. 

Rosen said a preliminary hearing will take place in 2022. He added, if the defendants violate conditions of their release, his office will go back to the court immediately to two men put back in custody.

A new high court ruling also most definitely played a key factor here, Clark said, where only defendants charged with capital murder can automatically be held without bail. 

In March, the California Supreme Court ruled that judges must consider suspects’ ability to pay when they set bail, essentially requiring that indigent defendants be freed unless they are deemed too dangerous to be released awaiting trial.

"The common practice of conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional," the justices said in a unanimous decision.

Judges can require electronic monitoring, regular check-ins with authorities or order suspects to stay in shelters or undergo drug and alcohol treatment, Associate Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar wrote on behalf of the court — conditions that "in many cases protect public and victim safety as well as assure the arrestee’s appearance at trial."

However, "where a financial condition is nonetheless necessary, the court must consider the arrestee’s ability to pay the stated amount of bail — and may not effectively detain the arrestee ‘solely because’ the arrestee ‘lacked the resources’ to post bail."

The decision comes after voters in November rejected a state law that would have ended California’s cash bail system entirely by substituting risk assessments for every suspect, and after months when a judicial order set bail at $0 for lower-level offenses during the coronavirus pandemic. The court’s ruling allows cash bail, so long as defendants can afford it.

There will be fewer bails set, and at lower levels, though he said the impact on the bail industry is uncertain. Also uncertain is the effect on public safety, American Bail Coalition Executive Director Jeff Clayton said, because prosecutors can still argue for detaining those they think are dangerous or likely to flee.

MORE: Santa Clara University students demand better mental health resources in wake of recent deaths

Bail is money or property that can be forfeited if suspects fail to appear for trial. Previously, judges set bail based on suspects’ criminal records and pending charges. Critics said that let wealthy suspects go home to prepare for trial while lower-income defendants stayed locked up, a system they said encouraged some innocents to plead guilty to get out of jail.

The decision was hailed by reform groups, while the California District Attorneys Association didn’t object and said prosecutors have long felt there should be thoughtful reform, including on the financial issue.

The high court’s ruling came in the case of 66-year-old Kenneth Humphrey of San Francisco, who was jailed for more than eight months because he couldn’t post $350,000 bail on charges of stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne from a neighbor in a senior housing complex in May 2017.

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles County noted that Humphrey has a long criminal record and so faced a potentially long prison sentence on charges including robbery and residential burglary. He is alleged to have demanded money from a 79-year-old man who uses a walker, then followed the victim into his apartment where he stole the items.

But San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju said after the ruling: "Pretrial liberty should be the norm and not the exception." 

The Associated Press and KTVU's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.