WINFIELD, Kan. – Some residents of Winfield are outraged that a convicted sex offender was allowed to go home before being sentenced to life in prison.
Loarn Earl Fitzgerald II was released on a low bond amount after being convicted of child sex crimes for the third time.
A judge set a bond of $25,000 and Fitzgerald was allowed to go home for two weeks before sentencing to a neighborhood where many children live.
KSN spoke to Judge James Pringle about residents’ concerns over the bond amount. He said it’s probably not that bad to let Fitzgerald spend two weeks with his family before he never sees them again.
It was a decision that still does not sit well with residents who were forced to live near the convicted sex offender over the course of those two weeks.
“I couldn’t believe it!” said Deanean Holden, one of Fitzgerald’s neighbors. “I mean that’s you know, you have kids around. You’d think at least he would have to wait for sentencing in jail, not be out and be accessible.”
The bond made waves across Cowley County, especially for his Winfield neighbors when they realized he would be out of jail and back home.
“He was down the street, sitting on the porch watching kids,” said Holden.
“I watch these little kids all the time, just like they were my own. So yeah, I’d be worried about it too!”
Cowley County residents reached out to KSN weeks ago, concerned District Court Judge Pringle was setting low bond amounts for sex offenders.
We learned that in setting a bond with the constitution and Kansas law in mind, a judge must consider two issues: whether the person is a danger to the community or a flight risk.
In the case of the three-time convicted sex offender, the bond was set at only $25,000, meaning he paid $2,500 to be home for two weeks before being sentenced to prison.
County Attorney Christopher Smith publicly disagreed with the bond.
He stated, as a prosecutor, he considered Fitzgerald both a danger to the community and a flight risk.
“I was against releasing him on bond under any condition,” Smith said.
Neighbors say Fitzgerald’s criminal history should have been evidence enough against him.
“He’s already been convicted three times,” said Holden. “It just didn’t make any sense.”
But it wasn’t up to his neighbors. It’s up to the man behind the bench: Judge Pringle.
“Entrusted to the wisdom of the individuals we elect and put in place as judges,” said Dan Monnat, KSN Legal Analyst.
“Fine, they have discretion, but there should still be some, you know, limits,” said Holden. “Our laws need to be stricter. They need to be more safe for our kids.”
State Senator Michael O’Donnell agrees.
“The legislature does need to step in and just have a minimum threshold,” said O’Donnell. “If you are accused or charged with a certain crime, and some of the most horrific crimes are child sex crimes, that we are going to hold you accountable.”
There are at least a dozen children who live in the immediate vicinity of the home Fitzgerald was living in prior to his sentencing.
Because this was Fitzgerald’s third offense, Jessica’s Law applied in this case.
Judge Pringle sentenced Fitzgerald Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Neighbors say it was a relief.
KSNW TV – By Brittany Glas