Suspect in Morrell Park killing freed twice on bail

Suspects charged with murder and those facing gun charges in Maryland can expect to be held without bond pending trial. But twice in the past six months, 18-year-old Brandon Kyle Mitchell has been arrested in shootings — one of them fatal — and was released after posting just $50,000 bail.

Officials acknowledged an error was made when Mitchell was released last week on $50,000 bond on a first-degree murder charge, according to interviews and recordings of court hearings.

But when prosecutors appealed the decision in hopes of having Mitchell held without bond, District Judge Askew W. Gatewood Jr. said Mitchell's good behavior while he was free showed that he could indeed be released on bond. This time, Gatewood set the bond at $250,000, which Mitchell posted.

In determining bail, judges consider the allegations in the case, the victim's record and the risk of flight. Handgun-related charges, particularly murder and attempted-murder cases, typically bring a high bail, if any at all.

Gatewood declined to comment Friday in an email response to a reporter's questions. Though police and prosecutors have in the past been critical of such judicial decisions, police declined to comment and the state's attorney's office said it "respected the judge's decision."

The grandmother of Omar Johnson, the Southwest Baltimore teenager Mitchell is accused of killing, is furious that he is walking freely instead of sitting in a jail cell.

"I'm very angry. I'm very upset, and I'm very mad," Sheila Anderson said after contacting The Baltimore Sun on Thursday. "Tell me how he got a bail. Something is not right with this case."

Mitchell, who lives in Morrell Park, was first taken into custody in early July after he was accused of shooting 37-year-old John Watkins on April 20. At his bail review, Mitchell was ordered held without bond.

Defense attorney Howard L. Cardin said he appealed the decision at a habeas corpus hearing and was able to gain Mitchell's release on $50,000 bond. The case was later dropped by city prosecutors because of insufficient evidence, officials said.

When Mitchell was arrested last week in the June 29 shooting of 16-year-old Johnson, Cardin says, his law partner, James Gitomer, told the judge he believed that prosecutors had refiled charges stemming from the April shooting. They now acknowledge that was a mistake, but Cardin said that Assistant State's Attorney David Chiu didn't dispute the statement.

Believing it was the same case, Gatewood set the same bond — $50,000.

Documents show another city prosecutor, Andrea Mason, became aware of the error and moved to have Mitchell's bail revoked, contending in a motion that Gitomer "made substantial and material misrepresentations to the Court."

"These are completely separate charges," a prosecutor would later tell Gatewood, according to a recording of the hearing.

In requesting that he be held without bond, Mason said Mitchell "presents a significant risk to public safety" and said his "access to handguns, in and of itself, is alarming." At a Dec. 7 raid at his uncle's home, police recovered three handguns, one believed to be stolen from the Baltimore Police Department, she said.

But at the Dec. 13 appeal hearing, Cardin said his client had turned himself in on both cases and was not a flight risk. Gatewood acknowledged that while the case would typically result in a no-bond status, Mitchell had proved himself eligible for a bond.

"In light of your representation, Mr. Cardin, and Mr. Mitchell's efforts to be here, I have raised the bail to $250,000," Gatewood said, according to the recording.

Cardin said defendants too often receive no bail when home detention could suffice. He said that under typical circumstances, his client would be in jail right now, "but I don't know if that's fair."

Mitchell is innocent, he said, and has the support of neighbors and witnesses to the incident, who Cardin said helped raise the $250,000 property bond.

Anderson, Johnson's grandmother, wondered whether Mitchell, who is white, received different treatment because of his race.

Johnson did not have a juvenile record, according to sources, and his relatives said he regularly attended an after-school mission program at a local church. According to documents, he was shot in the back as he ran from an altercation. He died instantly, records show.

"I'm at the point where I think it's a racial issue," she said. "I don't think with anyone else that mistake would have been made."

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