Orleans Parish Criminal District Court building

The Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on Tulane Avenue and Broad Street.

How do we begin to understand two men so void of virtue they would kidnap a 16-year-old girl, drug her, beat her, repeatedly rape her and then sell her for sex against her will? It’s a degree of evil so reprehensible you would hope the suspects, once caught, would never walk free again.

And yet when 26-year-old Elbert Riascos and 24-year-old Jovan Martin stood before New Orleans magistrate Harry Cantrell, they were given a bail so low you would have thought they were arrested for shoplifting. Riascos and Martin were booked for resisting arrest, child sex trafficking, first-degree rape, felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile, false imprisonment, cruelty to a juvenile, production and possession of child pornography and distribution of cocaine when Cantrell set their bail at only $90,000 and $20,000 respectively. Typically, defendants only pay ten percent of their bail to get out.

Riascos and Martin were already out on probation for other crimes, and yet Cantrell still gave them a low bond. You would think getting arrested for raping, beating, and sex-trafficking a 16-year-old girl would violate the suspect’s parole and send them directly back to jail. In fact, the very day before the arrest, Martin bonded out of jail in connection to a different case — a weapons charge — according to court records.

Riascos and Martin should be considered a clear and present danger to the public and held without bail for allegedly committing such horrid acts. Imagine their 16-year-old victim knowing her tormentors are walking free.

“She’s got to be scared to death. How do you let evil back out on the street? Whose daughter is this? Whose grandchild is it? This isn’t just some faceless person,” Jim Kelly, executive director of the nonprofit Covenant House, told nola.com. Covenant House is the lead agency in New Orleans dealing with sex trafficking victims.

Cantrell’s low bail also caught the attention of several on the New Orleans City Council.

“It’s unconscionable to me that this happened, and this judge should be held accountable on why he made this decision,” Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer told nola.com. “She was forced onto other men. She’s a child. How does a child that went through that now have to stand up and face accusers that are free? ”

“These are horrible crimes, charges of raping a minor, kidnapping her and trafficking her, and for these low bonds to be set it's completely egregious,” said Councilwoman Helena Moreno.

Police rescued the 16-year old at the 600 block of Canal Street in mid-December after someone called the National Human Trafficking Hotline saying they knew of a girl who “was being held against her will, repeatedly raped, drugged and beaten.”

Judge Cantrell is not the only one setting low bonds for serious crimes. WWL television recently reported that in many cases New Orleans judges and magistrates are setting bail on felony arrests as low as $100. The station reports Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration wants lower bail to reduce the city’s jail population. It’s working. The city's jail population now stands at a 40-year low.

The district attorney’s office recently issued the following statement critical of the new bail setting policies: “We have for months expressed our concern to the Criminal District Court over the disturbing recent trends in the setting of bail amounts and the granting of unwarranted or illegal recognizance bonds. Although city officials advocate for reducing New Orleans' jail population, that goal must be achieved through fewer people committing crimes, not by our courts disregarding state law and public safety. Some judges and commissioners are making police arrests inconsequential and putting our community at risk in their zeal to grant absurdly low bonds or release orders for dangerous repeat offenders.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this column did not attribute the source of quotes from Jim Kelly, who heads Covenant House, and New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer. The quotes were from a story reported by nola.com.

Email Dan Fagan at faganshow@gmail.com. Twitter: @FaganShow.

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