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Son whose mother was killed by man out on $250 bail hopes amendments prevent others from suffering his pain

“Such a small, insignificant detail turned into an avalanche."
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Posted at 9:22 AM, Apr 05, 2024

MILWAUKEE — One year ago, Wisconsin voters overwhelmingly approved major changes to what judges consider when setting cash bail for people accused of violent crimes.

It’s a day a local family wishes would have come sooner as they wonder whether it could have saved a mother’s life.

“Personally, I feel very, very betrayed by the court system,” said a 17-year-old named Robby.

It’s something Robby thinks about every day.

“If he would have been jailed or given punishment for his actions right when they had happened, I have a firm belief that this would have never transpired,” he said.

Robby’s mother Amanda, who raised him and his two brothers, was strangled and beaten to death in December of 2021 by her boyfriend.

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Robby, Amanda's youngest son, holding a pic of his mom.

"It was like a truck coming from nowhere. I did not see it coming whatsoever,” Robby said.

It happened in a home on Milwaukee’s north side just months after Amanda’s boyfriend was released on a $250 cash bail for charges of domestic violence against Amanda and possessing a firearm as a felon.

“Is that the hardest part for you to accept?” reporter Ben Jordan asked.

"In totality, yes,” Robby replied. “Such a small, insignificant detail turned into an avalanche."

Court documents show after her boyfriend was arrested for domestic violence in May of 2021, Amanda told investigators that she was afraid to call the police because ‘she feared he would kill her’.

“That family feels like the justice system failed them. What would you tell them about how this was handled?” Jordan asked Milwaukee County’s Chief Judge Carl Ashley.

"Well, first and foremost, I would like to send my condolences to the family for their loss,” Chief Judge Ashley replied. "It's a tragedy that unfortunately has not been isolated."

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Carl Ashley, Milwaukee Co. Chief Judge.

"Do we always get it right, no. Do we try to get it right? I'm sure we do,” Chief Judge Ashley added.

When the low cash bail was set in 2021 for Amanda’s killer, bail in Wisconsin was meant to ensure those charges with crimes returned to court.

In 2023, the constitutional amendments allowed judges to consider a suspect’s past convictions and the need to protect public safety while they await trial.

“One year later, could you say whether you think it’s made a difference in the amount of cash bail that’s set for very serious crimes?” Jordan asked.

“I wish I could give you an answer to that question, but the analytical resources necessary to do that, we don't have at our disposal,” Chief Judge Ashley replied.

The Milwaukee County Circuit Court which Ashley oversees, and the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office say they do not track data on cash bail averages for criminal charges, so there’s no way of knowing whether the constitutional amendments have resulted in broad change.

However, he thinks his court commissioners who set bail embrace those additional considerations and utilize them on an individual basis. It’s something critics think can punish those who are to be presumed innocent.

"I think having the ability to have this other vehicle to allow them to have more input as to what they're going to decide is good for them,” Chief Judge Ashley said.

Robby wonders if his mother would still be alive to see him graduate next year if the law was in place when her killer was charged.

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“Do you think these constitutional amendments will prevent others from having to feel your pain?” Jordan asked.

"I hope so,” Robby replied. “I genuinely hope so. It's something that should have never happened to me and I won't be over it for the rest of my life."