There are fewer than 400 people in the United States who could afford to have Antonio Marquis Willis released from jail on bond, thanks to a record-setting figure fixed by a justice of the peace.
Willis, who is facing charges of first-degree murder for the Dec. 21, 2016 death of Donte Samuels in Killeen, Texas, turned himself in to police this past Thursday. On Wednesday night, a justice of the peace set his bond at $4 billion, according to the Temple Daily Telegram.
KWTX, citing jail records, reported that the bond had been set at $999,999,999, but that number is only present on the Sheriff’s website because the jail’s computer system couldn’t recognize a higher number, according to the Daily Telegram, which interviewed Bell County Deputy Chief Chuck Cox.
The Daily Telegram reported that Democrat Claudia Brown was the official who set Willis’s bail, which is likely a U.S. record. Brown previously served as a city councilwoman in Killeeen and has experience in law enforcement, per the Daily Telegram.
“Given the current climate of crime, poverty, joblessness, insecurity and unrest in our community, my background eminently prepared me to help confront the injustice that is plaguing our current broken justice system,” she said while running for her seat this past November.
Willis also has a $1,000 bond for an outstanding warrant. According to police, he was staying with a woman, Tarah Ann Nichols, when Samuels approached the house multiple times on Dec. 21. On one of those occasions, he broke the windshield of Nichols’s car. Finally, when Willis told him to leave and he refused, he shot him once with a revolver, according to KWTX.
A manhunt ensued for Willis, who was considered “armed and dangerous” by authorities before he walked into a police station and turned himself in peacefully Thursday, per KCEN.
Why exactly Brown set the bond for Willis so high is unclear. Nichols, who has also been arrested and charged with tampering with evidence, has a bond of $500,000. In Texas, people charged with a capital crime can be held without bail for the public’s safety.
Willis’s bond smashes all previous known records for highest bond, with Business Insider citing the $100 million bond of Raj Rajaratnam in 2009 as the highest previous bond. Even famed murder suspect Robert Durst’s bail was $1 billion short of Willis, and that was later revised to just $450,000. However, Willis’s bail may also be unconstitutional.
Bonds are not meant to be a form of punishment, and excessively high bonds can be seen as a way to force those in poverty to stay behind bars. While Willis’s bond was set Wednesday, a different state adopted new rules to limit unfairly high bonds. Maryland’s highest court agreed to new judicial rules that prohibit holding defendants solely because they cannot afford bail, per the Baltimore Sun.