Man at center of landmark bail ruling released after nearly one year in jail

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A San Francisco Superior Court judge today agreed to release a man from custody ahead of his trial after he spent nearly a year in jail because he couldn't afford to pay bail.

Kenneth Humphrey's case inspired a landmark decision earlier this year when the state's 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled that judges must consider a defendant's finances when setting bail for pretrial detention.

Humphrey, 64, accused of entering his elderly neighbor's home, threatening him, and then stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne, was initially booked into jail on May 24, 2017. Subsequently charged with burglary, robbery, elder abuse and theft, Humphrey has remained in custody since then.

Prosecutors Allison Macbeth and Courtney Burris had sought to keep Humphrey in jail, citing previous robbery convictions going back to the 1980s, which they said showed that Humphrey was a threat to public safety and had a pattern of preying on vulnerable victims such as women and the elderly. 

Judge Brendan Conroy today, however, agreed to grant Deputy Public Defender Anita Nabha's request that Humphrey be released to a Mission District residential recovery facility for seniors, which has already agreed to take him in.

Although released, Humphrey will be put on house arrest, meaning he can't leave the treatment facility, will be monitored electronically 24 hours a day and be subject to searches. Additionally, he is to stay away from the victim in the case and the Turk Street residential senior facility where the 2017 crime occurred.

After issuing his ruling, Conroy warned Humphrey to abide by the conditions set upon him, in light of his case being used as an example to challenge the state's bail system.

"A lot is on your shoulders," Conroy told Humphrey. "I wish you all the best. I don't want to be negative -- this is a zero tolerance policy."

Prosecutors on Tuesday had said the victim in the case wanted to give a statement today in court, but the victim was unable to attend because he is sick and bed-ridden, according to prosecutors.

Outside of court, Nabha said of Humphrey, "He's obviously very happy that he's going to be able to continue this fight outside of jail and continue to work on his health and progress."

"This is a monumental decision today by the judge and we're very grateful that he is abiding by the new law and he's recognizing that this case, Mr. Humphrey's case, changed state law," Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.

After his 2017 arrest, Humphrey's bail had initially been set at $600,000 based on the state's bail schedule, but a judge eventually lowered it to $350,000 after the San Francisco public defender's office argued that the initial amount was excessive and that Humphrey did not poses a risk to 
the public.

In January, after reviewing Humphrey's case, the state appeals court ruled that a judge must consider the defendant's ability to pay when setting bail. Setting bail higher than a person can afford effectively jails the defendant for being poor, the ruling concluded.

While San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon has been in favor of changing the money bail system, last month in a letter sent to the state Supreme Court, Gascon asked to allow trial courts to consider public safety when setting bail for a defendant, which he says the January ruling  does not make clear.

"We're firmly supportive of the elimination of money bail. I think the primary concern in this case is that you have a defendant who's alleged to have targeted an elderly individual and now the court has chose to release him to a target-rich environment where he'll be surrounded by elderly individuals," District Attorney's Office spokesman Alex Szabo said outside of court.

"What we're concerned about going forward, however, is that the Humphrey decision didn't answer all of our questions about where do we go from here," Szabo said. "It's basically answered part of the equation but hasn't really answered the full equation about how we move away from money bail safely."

"We need to so in a way that's thoughtful and doesn't jeopardize public safety. That's what we're really concerned about," he said.