SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio man accused of murdering a woman inside a near North Side apartment Wednesday had been released on a personal recognizance bond months earlier and had remained free despite repeatedly violating the conditions of his release, court records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders revealed Friday.
Thomas Roberts, 43, has been charged with murder in the death of 39-year-old April Le-Clere.
San Antonio police officers who responded to an apartment complex in the 3800 block of West Avenue on Wednesday night said Roberts would not let them inside the apartment but repeatedly asked for paramedics.
Officers finally talked Roberts into opening the door, and Le-Clere’s body was found inside, according to SAPD officials.
Le-Clere had a number of defensive wounds on her arms and hands, according to an SAPD spokesperson, who confirmed Friday that investigators believe it was a domestic violence-related incident.
The Bexar County Medical Examiner has so far declined to release the cause or manner of Le-Clere’s death.
Should Roberts have been in jail at the time of the murder?
Roberts has nine previous convictions in Bexar County, including charges of family violence and possession of an explosive device, court records show.
In the explosive device case, Roberts was granted deferred adjudication in 2004 but was then sentenced to five years in prison in 2006, after his probation was revoked.
In January, Roberts was charged with making a terroristic threat.
His arrest came eight months after he told an SAPD officer that he wanted to buy a .38 handgun and shoot police officers, according to information released by SAPD officials Friday.
Roberts was placed in an emergency detention at the time, and a warrant was then issued for his arrest in the case in early November, court records show.
Despite Roberts’ violent criminal history and the nature of the terroristic threat charge, which included an admission that Roberts has homicidal ideations, Bexar County Magistrate Judge Rose Zebell-Sosa granted him a personal recognizance bond.
Personal recognizance, or PR bonds, mean a defendant is released from jail without having to pay money and can remain free as long as he or she shows up to court hearings and follows any conditions of release.
In Roberts’ case, Zebell-Sosa issued several conditions, including random drug and alcohol screenings and requiring him not to possess any firearms.
Zebell-Sosa did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
Court records confirm between the time of Roberts’ release from jail in January and the time of his arrest Wednesday night, he violated the conditions of his release at least three times.
The first violation was for a failed drug test, and the other two violations were for missed appointments.
County Court 12 and Mental Health Court Judge Yolanda Huff, whose court is handling Roberts’ terroristic threat case, continued him on bond after each of the violations, a court official confirmed Friday.
Huff, through a staff member, released the following statement when asked about her decision to not issue a warrant for his rearrest:
“In March, all judges were asked to not issue any warrants, and to let as many non-violent defendants as possible out of jail because of COVID-19. On his previous violations, the judge did order as a condition of his bond to have random drug /alcohol testing, to not possess any firearms, and to report to the CHCS (Center for Health Care Services) special needs unit within 7 days. She did issue a warrant for the defendant today (6/5/2020) on the 4th Violation report with a bond increase to $1600 with the same bond conditions.”
If Roberts had been rearrested there is a strong possibility he would have remained in jail despite the pandemic, due to an executive order on inmate releases issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in March.
Abbott’s order prohibits inmates accused of violent crimes, or previously convicted of a violent offense, from being released without paying bond.
Under this order, which was in and out of court for several weeks before the Texas Supreme Court ultimately upheld it in April, Roberts would not have qualified for release because of his previous family violence conviction.
Mike Lozito, director of the Bexar County Office of Criminal Justice, which includes pretrial services, declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.
The pretrial services officer assigned to Roberts’ terroristic threat case did not respond to a phone call seeking comment Friday.
County officials said the pretrial officer reported each of Roberts’ violations to the court but have not said whether the officer recommended that Roberts be taken back into custody for any of those violations.
“What a misjudgment.”
Marta Prada Peláez, president and CEO of Family Violence Prevention Services, said Friday that holes in the judicial system are costing people their lives.
“The only assurances that the judge could have had in this case is that he’s going to reoffend again in big ways. And certainly he did,” said Prada Peláez. “I am appalled. I am appalled. You don’t have to be an attorney or an officer of the law to understand what a misjudgment, what an opportunity wasted.”
Prada Peláez said judges have a lot of discretion on whether to ultimately approve a PR bond.
“I can’t understand. I can’t understand, Dillon," said Prada Peláez. “I’m so upset, so upset. I’m so upset.”