Prosecutors Want No-Bond Suspect Jailed

Sean Sykes.
Sean Sykes. (Courtesy Of Prince George's County - Courtesy Of Prince George's County)
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By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009

An 18-year-old murder defendant who was released without bond last week by a Prince George's County judge is a member of a violent street gang, prosecutors said yesterday as they sought to reverse the judge's decision.

Assistant State's Attorney Joseph C. Ruddy filed court papers asking that Sean M. Sykes be arrested and held without bond or be given a bond "that is appropriate considering the nature and circumstances" of the case.

Sykes is charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 24 slaying of Rene R. Belasco. Police say Sykes and a man who remains at large threatened to kill a witness who saw them dragging the victim from an apartment building in Oxon Hill. Prosecutors have not offered a motive for the slaying.

Sykes was initially held on $1.5 million bond set by a court commissioner, but at a March 5 hearing, District Court Judge Hassan A. El-Amin released Sykes to the custody of his mother. It is highly unusual for defendants charged with murder to be released without posting bond.

A hearing on the prosecution's motion is scheduled for tomorrow, said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. It was not immediately known which judge would preside over the hearing, Korionoff said.

Belasco, 24, was stabbed to death inside an apartment building in the 1100 block of Kennebec Street. Sykes lives in the building with his family.

Ruddy's motion asserts that returning Sykes to the apartment building "places all residents in fear and all witnesses in potential danger."

In an interview Tuesday, El-Amin defended his decision, saying he did not believe Sykes posed a danger to the community or a flight risk, the two factors that judges are required to consider in making such decisions.

El-Amin also denounced as "barely constitutional" the state judicial system's method of determining whether and under what conditions defendants are released before trial. The vast majority of defendants are not represented by an attorney at such appearances, he said. Sykes had no attorney.

The state public defender's office takes the position that staffing bond hearings and earlier appearances before court commissioners would be a poor use of resources. "We haven't been provided the funding to represent people until after their initial bond review before the judge," said Brian C. Denton, the chief public defender in Prince George's.

The state's highest court is expected to rule this year on whether the right to counsel extends to those proceedings.

Yesterday, Belasco's stepfather called El-Amin's decision a "travesty."

"I think it's horrible, personally," said Tyrone Woods.

At Sykes's March 5 hearing, El-Amin said of the $1.5 million bond that was initially set: "Nobody can make that bond."

At one point, Sykes proclaimed his innocence. "If I really murdered the dude, why would I still be in the house where the crime scene happened?" he said, according to an audiotape of the proceeding.

As the hearing ended, El-Amin said to Sykes, "Stay out of trouble, son."

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