A Manhattan judge didn’t clearly explain why she kept an accused murderer behind bars, so his lawyer has gone to court to get him freed under New York’s bail reform laws — a move one critic labeled as “lunacy.”
John Spry, 31, “laid in wait” for his victim in the Feb. 1 shooting, said prosecutors, who called the killing a “planned execution” and sought to have the suspect remanded without bail, according to a court transcript.
Judge Ann Scherzer listened as prosecutors described the allegations against Spry — who they said put a stolen license plate on his girlfriend’s car and drove from Queens to Manhattan’s Washington Houses to shoot Davantay Butts — and to his attorney, Michelle Villasenor-Grant, who pushed for his release.
But Scherzer sent Spry back to jail after the March hearing without explanation, setting his next court date for May 3. Spry’s lawyer now claims the judge’s ruling was “an abuse of discretion” and violated the state’s bail reform law.
The judge made her decision without determining if Spry was a “flight risk,” without considering “less restrictive alternatives” such as electronic monitoring, and “without explaining her decision,” according to Villasenor-Grant in a Manhattan Supreme Court petition seeking her client’s release.
“The court shall explain its choice of release, release with conditions, bail or remand on the record or in writing,” part of the bail reform law cited in the court filing specifies.
The legal filing reflects “a consistent, steady move in the direction of ultimately holding no one accountable,” said Eugene O’Donnell of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s a further step on the road of lunacy that we’ve been on.”
“It’s crazy,” said former NYPD Detective Joseph Giacalone. “It just goes to show you how much the defense attorneys are gaming the system on this. … It’s just ridiculous the state of affairs that we’re in now.”
Spry faces 15-to-25 years in prison on the second-degree murder charge. He was also hit with assault and weapons charges, and pleaded not guilty.
He has “significant community ties,” including a 1-year-old daughter, and shouldn’t be “subjected [to] the risk of serious injury, illness, or death that is incarceration at Rikers currently threatens,” the lawyer claims in court papers.
“This man is simply not going to discard and leave his baby and flee. He is going to stay here and fight this case,” said Villasenor-Grant.
It’s unclear what sparked the killing, but prosecutors said Spry followed Butts, 26, as the victim left around 11 a.m. with some friends to buy shoes, waited for him to come back out of the store and crossed the street to shoot Butts in the back in broad daylight.
One of the bullets hit a woman int the arm, records show. Spry allegedly kept shooting as Butts, a reputed member of the Broad Day Shooters gang, was on the ground, then ran to his idling car and drove back to Queens.
He has at least two felony convictions, including a drug possession case in which he was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, and one for attempted criminal possession of a weapon in 2012, for which he was sentenced to two years in prison, and has had his parole revoked in the past, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office told Scherzer, according to the transcript.
The lawyer, who works for Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, argued in the lawsuit bail should be set at $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond.
Spry’s bid for bail is unlikely to succeed, veteran criminal defense attorneys said.
“The judge should have made a finding,” said lawyer Ron Kuby, adding “but ultimately, it’s not going to result in the defendant’s release, I predict.”
The seriousness of the charges and the allegations will weigh heaviest in the mind of judges in such a case, said Kuby and longtime criminal defense lawyer Mark Bederow, who said the likelihood of Spry’s release “is almost nil.”
But the case shows how “weak” the criminal justice system has become, Giacalone argued.
“The bad guys are opportunists and right now they view the criminal justice system in New York as very weak. That we’re even discussing this shows how weak it’s become,” he said.