Bond set for capital murder suspect
Bond set for capital murder suspect
By Lisa Rogers
Times Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 11:00 p.m.
A woman charged with capital murder in the death of her 16-month-old daughter remained in jail late Wednesday; however a bond was set earlier in the day by District Judge William D. Russell.
A $100,000 property bond was set for Tonya G. Cate, charged Jan. 3 in her daughter's death in September 2003.
Cate's case is only the second time in recent years a bond was set in a capital murder case and Russell says a precedent was set when the Alabama Supreme Court required a bond be set in the first case.
It's a decision unpopular with Sheriff James Hayes, whose officers are investigating the death of Serena Cate.
"That's a dangerous precedent to set," Hayes said. "I wish (Russell) had not set it, but I respect his decision and his reasons."
Judges are reluctant to set any bond in a capital case, because of the serious nature of the charge, Russell wrote in an order setting the bond and its conditions. Every defendant is a flight risk because of the potential death sentence, he wrote.
However, Russell cited another Etowah County case in which the Alabama Supreme Court overruled Circuit Judge William Cardwell and required he set a bond.
Russell said the standard was set by the Alabama Supreme Court in the case of Ansuya Patel, charged in May 2002 with capital murder in the death in the 5-year-old daughter she and her husband had adopted.
"This court must weigh this case
in light of the standard set forth by the Alabama Supreme Court," Russell wrote.
In the Patel case, bond was denied primarily because she was a foreign national from India and not a U.S. citizen and a substantial flight risk, Russell wrote.
"She has extensive relatives who have the financial means and ability to remove her from the court's jurisdiction and beyond the extradition of this jurisdiction," Russell wrote.
However, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed Cardwell and required he set a reasonable bond.
Patel was released on a $250,000 bond. She has been indicted by an Etowah County grand jury and is awaiting trial.
Cate, 29, was arrested Jan. 3, about 15 months after the death of her daughter.
"(Cate) has had 15 months to flee the jurisdiction and avoid prosecution prior to arrest, but she chose not to flee," Russell wrote. "(Cate) has substantial relatives in the community and has substantial ties to the community. The defendant is a United States citizen and does not have the financial means to leave the country. In both cases, the accused had not yet been indicted and the presumption of guilt has not attached."
Russell said, "The state has the burden of proof to present evidence, which must be clear and strong, and which would lead to the conclusion that the offense has been committed, the accused is the guilty agent and she would be punished capitally if the law is administered."
The state did not present its entire case and Cate's attorneys did not offer her defense at the bond hearing, Russell wrote.
"It would be pure speculation for this court to predict that a jury will recommend the death penalty if the defendant is convicted," Russell wrote. "This court firmly believes that the defendant's guilt or innocence and the appropriate punishment needs to be determined by a jury of her peers."
Russell ruled that if the Supreme Court required that a reasonable bond be set in the Patel case, a reasonable bond should be set in Cate's case.
Investigators had been awaiting final autopsy results to complete the investigation, which began soon after the child was taken to Gadsden Regional Medical Center on Sept. 26, 2003.
Investigators received a call from the hospital that night that a baby had been brought in with a head injury.
The child was flown to Children's Hospital in Birmingham, where she died Sept. 29, 2003.
The autopsy was done Sept. 30, 2003, but all tests were not complete until Dec. 22, 2004. The time it took to complete the autopsy led to the delay in an arrest, Hayes said.
After interviews with doctors at Children's Hospital who treated the child and reviewing the autopsy results, which showed the toddler died from blunt force trauma to the head, a capital murder warrant was obtained.
Hayes and investigators have declined to comment further about the nature of the injuries Serena Cate suffered, but said the Cate and Patel cases are entirely different circumstances.
"The nature of the injuries and the facts of the case are entirely different," Hayes said.
According to the judge's order, Hayes, in the course of his duties as sheriff, is the only person who can approve Cate's bond.
No surety bond from a bondsman can be accepted and only property owners approved by the sheriff can be accepted.
If Cate makes bond, she cannot leave Etowah or Calhoun counties without written approval from the judge and keep her attorneys informed of her current residence, phone number and mailing address at all times.
She also cannot have any child less than 15 years old, whether related to her or not, in her sole custody, unsupervised, at any time.
She cannot have a gun, pistol, knife or any other type of weapon.
Any alleged violations are conditions in which bond can be revoked.