Judge makes emotional apology to Corcoran family, grants bond to charged driver

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COVER PHOTO_Franco Francisco-Eduardo granted bond at hearing_0125_1548473137820.JPG.jpg

Franco Cambrany Francisco-Eduardo was granted another chance Friday to get out of jail while he awaits his next day in court. 

General Sessions Court Judge Patricia Hall Long reinstated Francisco-Eduardo’s bond, after Judge Andrew Jackson VI revoked it, in an effort to keep him in Knox County for a preliminary hearing.

Francisco-Eduardo, who the prosecutor says has been in the country illegally for years, is also on an immigration hold with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Judge Jackson made the decision to revoke his bond because Francisco-Eduardo was taken into ICE custody after he made the first $3,500 bond. 

Although there is an agreement between the federal government and Knox County, called a “writ” in the legal world, the Assistant Prosecuting District Attorney, Rachel Russell, didn’t feel confident it would guarantee Francisco-Eduardo wouldn’t be taken out of state. 

Judge Long was briefed by Russell on some research she requested relating to criminally negligent homicide convictions in Knox County and in Tennessee.

Long specifically asked for “any successful prior prosecutions of Knox County of state case where the defendant was a negligent driver, in a two-vehicle accident, resulting in death with no speeding, drugs, alcohol, drag racing.” 

Long, who said at the preliminary hearing in 10 years on the bench, she’d never heard a case quite like this one, said Friday she acknowledges she is one of five judges and wanted more perspective on the charge. 

Russell explained to the court Friday it was difficult for her to do a thorough search in a week “with the other things I need to handle,” but learned through a JIMS search, since 2010, every criminally negligent homicide charge went straight to a grand jury, bypassing a judge. 

Russell’s research found seven charges have gone to a grand jury since 2010.

Because they were all presentments to the grand jury, Russell explained, there were no details on each incident. She found the charges and outcomes of court proceedings. 

All of her examples, but two, were charged as criminally negligent homicide. 

Russell said two were upgrades to vehicular homicide, which is two steps above criminally negligent homicide, according to the judge. Two others were originally presented to a grand jury as vehicular homicide, but ended up pleading down to criminally negligent homicide. Russell said none of them went to trial. Four of the five pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide, most of them were probably sentences. 

Through another arrest, mostly looking at Tennessee Highway Patrol arrests, which has fact-patterns and arrest reports but no outcome, Russell presented four more examples to the court.

Of those in the THP database, Russell’s team found, four were arrested as criminally negligent homicide. Since 2010, Russell conceded, not that many people have been charged with criminally negligent homicide.

On Chapman Highway, specifically, she cited 12 fatal car crashes since July 2014. Of those car crashes, 11 of the drivers died from injuries. The only driver that survived was also the only one to face charges.  

The track record of the state taking pleas still left the judge unsure about how a jury will handle the case.

More significantly, without details of the crashes, the judge was still left wondering if the previous charges involved head-on collisions or pedestrian wrecks along Chapman Highway. 

Most of Friday’s court hearing was spent, less on the history of the Criminally Negligent Homicide, which is a Class E Felony, was on Francisco-Eduardo’s flight risk. 

Russell argued Friday, although he has family here, he’s also been supporting a family in Mexico. She alleged “strong ties” to Mexico and says it makes him a flight risk. 

In legal speak, a flight risk is a term that is used by a court to describe a person or defendant who is likely to flee the country, state, or area to avoid criminal prosecution. Courts often weigh the flight risk factor when deciding whether or not to grant bond to a defendant.

The state revisited the argument of ICE coming to pick Eduardo up, given that he makes bond.

“He will go from here to Louisiana,” Russell said. “The defendant is a flight risk. If he makes bond, the deportation proceeding will progress. It’s the state’s position that the likelihood of the defendant’s presence in the court diminishes with each and every step of the process.” 

The state also argued their push for a revoked bond doesn’t simply stem from him being in the country illegally, but rather because of his deportation proceedings, which they view as a flight risk. 

Judge Long, assured by the state it isn’t a guarantee, asked “why do they go to ignore the writ,” referring to ICE and the agreement between the federal and county government.

In fact, Russell said their office has independently confirmed with the immigration office “they will come to get him.” 

Ultimately, ICE wasn’t enough for the Judge to keep the bond revoked.

“That has nothing to do with my determination,” she said. 

Defense attorney Stephens’ primary argument Friday was for his defendant’s “constitutional and statutory right to have a right to bail.” 

Stephens acknowledged, if what Francisco-Eduardo engages in is unacceptable, the Judge can revoke a bond. But, Stephens argued if it’s found definitively that his client was here illegally – violating the Immigration of Naturalization Act is not a crime. In his interpretation, it only becomes a federal crime when you return to a country after being deported. 

Stephens also refuted the theory that his client is a flight risk.

He said ICE officials asked him to sign a deportation agreement, that would send him to Mexico, but he refused because Knoxville is where he wants to be.

“This guy has shown for 14 years he’s not going anywhere. He’s not going to Mexico. He hasn’t gone to Mexico. He’s stayed here. This is where he wants to be,” Stephens said. 

Stephens, in an impassioned defense of his client, said, “I don’t want to get too dramatic…the person has done more to be in this community. There’s nobody in this courtroom that’s done more than this guy, to be in this community,” to which the Judge interrupted – “that is dramatic.”  

Judge Long explained, it’s equivalent to theft over $1,000 felony charge, which is two classes below vehicular homicide. 

If convicted, the Judge said, Francisco-Eduardo would serve 1-2 years.

Even if it were probated, which is what all other examples Russell presented ended up with, Francisco-Eduardo would be eligible for parole after 219 days. In custody since Dec. 29, he’s already building credit toward that scenario. 

Another concern, relating to a possible sentence and being held without a bond is, he could be in jail in between court proceedings longer than a potential sentence if convicted.

“I’m looking at the likelihood of conviction from a negligent fatal car wreck, involving two vehicles, where the defendant has his friends and family members in his car, where he has to make a split decision to turn right or left. I believe that that conviction likelihood is low, but that will be up to a jury and that’s why it’s going to court.” 

Ultimately, Francisco-Eduardo has been in the United States long enough, 14 years according to his attorney, to convince her he will stay. She ordered a GPS monitoring device and ordered him not to drive. 

Long sadi she hopes federal authorities comply with the writ.

Francisco-Eduardo’s legal team is working with the bonding company to get the money back from the first bond payment and get it to the clerk to satisfy the bond set by Long on Friday.

“My hope would be that he remains here until the prosecution…I can’t just deny him bond based on the fact that ICE might come to get him,” Long added. 

After the many factors the Judge faced in making the decision, she said for the record: 

“I am so sorry to the Corcoran family. It’s just every family’s nightmare, the random car wreck where your children don’t come home. It breaks my heart. As a judge, I have to make a bond determination according to the constitution, the Tennessee Constitution, the statutes. I’m reinstating his original bond. I do not believe he is a flight risk based on his 14 years here. One of the things the court struggles with every day with immigrants, here illegally or otherwise – is the inability for me to know their prior criminal history.” 

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