By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
On July 29, Ibrahim Bouaichi, who had been indicted for rape, allegedly shot and killed his accuser, Karla Dominguez, while out on bond.
Bouaichi, 33, is one of many incarcerated people who have been released from jail since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the region in mid-March. Those released have included prisoners serving time whose sentences were almost complete, those with serious medical conditions and defendants awaiting trial.
It is unusual, however, that someone facing such serious charges – rape, sodomy, abduction, strangulation and burglary – was allowed to walk free without GPS tracking and seemingly little enforcement of the conditions set in his bond order.
The alleged rape for which Bouaichi was indicted took place in October 2019 at Dominguez’s residence. Following the incident, Bouaichi was arrested and detained without bond at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria. After a preliminary hearing on Dec. 11, 2019, during which Dominguez testified, the grand jury indicted Bouaichi on the five charges, and a trial was set for March 30.
When the pandemic hit, the Alexandria Circuit Court issued an order removing all cases from the docket, and Bouaichi’s trial was rescheduled for May 4. On April 8, Bouaichi’s defense lawyers filed a bond motion requesting that Bouaichi be released from jail.
Judge Nolan Dawkins released Bouaichi on April 9, despite objections from an Alexandria prosecutor, on $25,000 bond. The bond order required Bouaichi to remain in his parents’ Maryland home, except when meeting with his counsel or pretrial services, and to have no contact with Dominguez. The written bond order did not detail how the conditions would be enforced.
Bouaichi’s trial date continued to be postponed because of the pandemic. On July 29, still out on bond, Bouaichi allegedly shot and killed Dominguez outside of her Alexandria apartment.
On Aug. 5, police located Bouaichi in Maryland and initiated a vehicle pursuit, which ended when Bouaichi’s car crashed in Prince George’s County. Officers found Bouaichi with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and transported him to a hospital, where he died on Aug. 8.
July 29 was not the first time Bouaichi violated the terms of his bond order. He was arrested on May 8 in Greenbelt, Maryland and charged with several traffic offenses, including reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol. He subsequently posted bond and was released on May 10, according to Maryland court records.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said that Maryland authorities did not notify Alexandria authorities of the arrest. If they had, the prosecution would have moved to revoke Bouaichi’s bond, Porter said.
Dominguez’s tragic murder was apparently at least in part a result of incarcerated individuals – who were either serving terms or awaiting trial – being released from jail due to COVID-19 concerns. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a public push to reduce the number of inmates in jails and prisons in order to diminish the risk of outbreaks within those confined facilities.
“Pretrial release has become more common since March, absolutely,” Marina Medvin, a local criminal defense attorney, said in an email. “Defendants who before coronavirus would have sat in jail awaiting trial without bond are now being placed on pretrial release, some without oversight.”
The Sheriff’s Office does not have records of how many people have been released from the Alexandria jail for reasons related to COVID-19. The inmate population was 331 on March 1 and 274 on Aug. 24, according to Amy Bertsch, communications specialist at the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office.
Porter said there is no set criteria for who can be released on bond or whether someone can be released because of COVID-19 concerns.
“It’s a case-by-case basis,” Porter said. “The judge is going to be looking at what’s alleged: Is it a violent [or] non-violent crime? Does the evidence appear to be strong or weak? What is the person’s prior criminal record, if any? When it comes to COVID, do they belong to a particular class of people, like age or immune-compromised people that might be at a higher risk?”
Bouaichi’s defense attorneys say that Bouaichi was not released because of COVID-19 concerns, but because they had a case for his innocence. The lawyers requested that their names be left out of this article because they’ve received death threats since Dominguez’s murder.
“The gist of our motion was actual innocence,” one of the attorneys said. “We waited six months before we did a bond motion, and we requested a bond motion upon reviewing the prosecutor’s evidence and developing our evidence, and we presented some of our findings to the judge, and we believe that’s why the judge decided to release him on bond, not COVID-19.”
The attorneys said that 90% of their oral argument for Bouaichi’s release was based on his innocence, and 10% based on COVID-19.
The written bond motion does not go into detail about their argument for Bouaichi’s innocence, except to state: “The two individuals involved were boyfriend/girlfriend and there is a substantial defense here.”
The written motion details several COVID-19-related concerns, including the health and safety risk for Bouaichi and his attorneys. It does not appear that Bouaichi had any pre-existing conditions that would have put him at a higher risk for developing complications from COVID-19.
Because the bond motion was filed on April 8 and the hearing took place on April 9, the prosecution did not respond in writing.
“We did strenuously object in court,” Porter said, “and the reason for that was obviously the violent nature of the charges that had been indicted against the defendant and the danger we thought he represented to the victim.”
Judge Dawkins did not respond to requests for comment on the reasoning behind his decision to release Bouaichi.
Dawkins retired on June 26 after serving as a judge for the Alexandria Circuit Court from 2008 to 2020. He became the city’s first Black judge in 1994 when appointed to Alexandria’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations court, and he is highly regarded by many.
“I’m sure Judge Dawkins is more saddened and more burdened with this than anybody else, with the possible exception of that poor woman’s family,” John Kiyonaga, a local criminal defense attorney, said. “Hindsight is always 20/20, but judges are called upon to make very difficult decisions. In the moment, I’m sure Judge Dawkins did his best to do justice in this case, but very, very sadly, very unfortunately, it appears he called it wrong. That doesn’t mean that he’s to be blamed for the decision.”
The prosecution could have appealed the bond determination but did not. When asked why, Porter said it’s “almost unheard of to try and appeal a circuit court decision.”
It is unclear who was responsible for enforcing the conditions set in Bouaichi’s bond order. Bouaichi was ordered to remain at his parents’ home in Greenbelt, Maryland. However, Dawkins did not order that Bouaichi be tracked by GPS.
Porter, Bertsch, Chief Judge Lisa Kemler and Chief Magistrate Adam Willard declined to say how – or if – the conditions set in Bouaichi’s bond order were enforced.
In some cases, defendants released on bond are supervised by pretrial services, which is part of the Sheriff’s Office. However, any report on the progress of a defendant under the supervision or custody of a pretrial services agency is confidential information exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, according to state code.
Porter said the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney is actively investigating the case to find out what happened and whether it was a result of a systemic flaw.
“We continue to look into exactly what occurred in this case, with an eye for trying to learn some lessons and see if there’s anything that we can do in the future that might decrease the likelihood of another tragedy occurring,” Porter said.