Witness for the Prosecution

Did lack of manpower leave a felon on bail free to kill? Maybe. Sort of.

"If you want to know why the crime rate is so high, look at someone like him," Kunkle says. "I know he's not arrested for every offense, so there are probably scores if not hundreds of offenses for every one he is arrested for."

The District Attorney's Office is under pressure from both the county and the state to keep so-called nonviolent offenders (like Hernandez was before his latest arrest) out of jail in order to ease overcrowding at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center. Over the last three years, state inspectors have continually flunked the Dallas County jail in part because it has too many inmates per jailer. Still, after Watkins was elected, Kunkle and Assistant Chief Ron Waldrop asked him to separate low-level defendants into two groups. The first are more or less first-time offenders who may be better served by a strict probation than a stint behind bars. The second are those police call "impact offenders," who have essentially made a career out of crime. Kunkle and Waldrop have asked the District Attorney's Office to push for them to receive the maximum sentence allowed by law.

"It is understandable, even for us, that when someone gets arrested for a crime, you should try to help them get out of that lifestyle and not incarcerate them," Waldrop says. "But the second group are the chronic offenders—people who are committing as many as 100 crimes a week."

Moore says that the District Attorney's Office is sympathetic to the police department's concerns but that their prosecutors have to strike a tough balance between adequately punishing people for crimes and not overcrowding the jail.

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