Nigel Pitts bond set at $200,000, lower than any other murder suspect so far in 2014

CINCINNATI – The same judge that set an unusually low bond for a murder suspect, retroactively increased the amount Friday morning.

Originally set at $200,000 with a 10 percent requirement Thursday morning, Judge Tyrone Yates increased the bond amount for Nigel Pitts, 24, to $400,000 with no 10 percent option.

Still, the increased amount remains lower than any other adult murder suspect this year, court records show.

Pitts, 24, the man accused in the killing of 68-year-old Lee Arthur Henley, may have been back on the street if he was able to post 10 percent of the bond amount, or $20,000, but Cincinnati police investigators filed an additional charge in hopes of keeping him locked up.

Yates, a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge, told WCPO after the arraignment on Thursday that Pitts is indigent and the bond amount is reasonable. 

Much to the concern of Cincinnati homicide investigators, the original bond amount in the killing sends a bad message, and if the suspect were to bail out, he could potentially intimidate cooperating witnesses – a huge problem for investigators, they said.

In the six cases involving adult murder suspects this year, no judge set bond less than $500,000. Only in one case did a judge set a 10 percent requirement, records show. Juvenile homicide suspect bond records were not immediately available.

“There is no hard-and-fast standard for bond setting on capital cases,” Yates said. “It depends on the circumstances on each case. It was kind of a mixture of seriousness of the offense and his capacity to meet bond.

“In this particular case, in addition to considering the defendant’s record, and the fact that he is indigent and could afford no bond at all, that played into my analysis.”

Yates, who was the court officer who signed the arrest warrant for Pitts, said he is thoroughly familiar with the background of the case.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, though, investigators filed an additional aggravated burglary charge that will hold Pitts until another arraignment Friday morning. Court documents accuse Pitts of inflicting physical harm and robbing Henley of his wallet among other items.

“We have a game plan, we know how to play ball,” an investigator told WCPO.

Pitts was previously arrested in connection with aggravated burglary in December 2008. Bond was set at $150,000 with no 10 percent options, according to court records. That meant that Pitts would have had to post the full amount as a guarantee he would show up for court to face the charges.

Homicide investigators said witnesses are being cooperative, and if Pitts manages to post bail they said they fear he may intimidate witnesses. Pitts was arrested in connection with witness intimidation in 2008, which was later dismissed.

In addition to the $200,000 bond, Pitts was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring unit. Use of electronic monitoring has widened as jail officials have contended there is limited jail space —although the electronic monitoring units are typically used for non-violent offenders.

Police departments that work at building relationships with the community are better equipped to solve homicides, officials have said. The pervasive ‘no-snitch’ culture has hindered investigators in the past, as witnesses don’t come forward out of fear of reprisal from others in the neighborhood or by offenders out on bond.

Officials have also cited the changing nature of violence in big cities over the last few decades, saying gang- and drug-related killings can be more difficult to solve than crimes of passion, especially amid a rising "no-snitch" culture.

There is no indication Henley’s death was gang or drug-related, and witnesses have been forthcoming, investigators said.

Henley was found stabbed to death in his Avondale apartment on Saturday, May 4.

By early Wednesday, a warrant was issued for Pitts’ arrest, who lived in the same apartment complex as Henley in the 3500 block of Alaska Ave.

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