One day after law enforcement officials sounded the public alarm that a judge granted bond for an alleged gang member accused of shooting an Atlanta police officer — despite the slim chance he would ever be allowed to make it — the same judge raised the cash bond to $2 million Thursday.
Christian Eppinger, 22, had been granted a $400,000 bond earlier this week, news of which quickly spread on social media even before Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant called a joint news conference to criticize the decision.
From jail, Eppinger even called a friend and dictated an Instagram post, saying, “I’m coming home,” much to the dismay of those who thought the alleged cop shooter might be released soon. But he actually knew he wasn’t going home, since he had a hold imposed by the Superior Court for violating the terms of his probation from a 2016 series of violent felonies.
Still, Willis had hoped to make an example of Eppinger’s case, which she said is indicative of problems with the process by which Fulton County ensures state law requirements are met for defendants kept in custody without bail.
Magistrate Court Judge Alexandra Manning, who ordered the original bond Monday, countered during Thursday’s emergency hearing that she was not aware of his criminal history, his ongoing alleged attempts to engage in gang activity from inside the jail, or his bond revocation when she made her initial decision.
“I completely agree with the court. It was unknown to you at the time, and that’s squarely on my office for not presenting that information,” Deputy District Attorney Cara Convery told Manning on Thursday. “A special prosecutor should have been before you at that hearing to present you with the most complete set of information available. I’m before you now, asking the indulgence to do so, and I apologize again for not being before you before.”
After hearing the new evidence, Manning opted to raise Eppinger’s bond to $2 million for the Feb. 7 shooting of Officer David Rodgers. She also set a $500,000 bond for each of the remaining charges Eppinger faces related to two earlier incidents: an October armed robbery and a January theft.
Eppinger has been in custody since his arrest the same day, totaling just over 70 days behind bars — something Manning cited when setting a bond because, under Georgia law, defendants have a right to a grand jury hearing within 90 days of their arrest, or they have a right to bail.
So on Monday, Manning set a bond in each of the pending cases. By Wednesday, Willis had called the news conference to criticize the decision to grant bail so early in the process, noting that 90 days had not been reached. But Willis stopped short of pointing a finger at the judge.
“We certainly do not want to disparage this individual judge,” she said at the time. “I have a problem with the fact that judges that are not elected, that are not Superior Court judges, would even have the authority right now to hear cases that involve gangs because gangs are plaguing our society.”
Willis explained that defendants go before a judge every six weeks. In Eppinger’s case, he would not have been back before a judge for another six weeks, which would have put him over 90 days without a bond, she said.
“But that’s process over common sense,” she said. “What should have happened is the case should have been set down for 19 days. If the state had failed to indict him, at that point the judge would have to give him a bond by law.”
Following the news conference, some social media posts called for Manning’s removal.
“At the end of the day, no one should question our judge about whether or not she cares for the community,” Eppinger’s attorney, public defender Eric Cho, said. “She tries her best. She tries to be fair ... I have known Judge Manning for a very long time. She is a former police officer. To even suggest that she is anti-law enforcement, to even suggest that she is pro-law enforcement getting shot is irresponsible. It’s intimidating, and it’s disgusting. It is unacceptable.”
Before Manning made her final decision to increase Eppinger’s bond, Elizabeth Markowitz of the Fulton County Public Defender’s Office raised concerns over what kind of precedent the bond reconsideration was setting and possible tainting of a future jury pool due to the state making the case so public.
“What’s to prevent any other case coming up that you’ve already heard two or three weeks ago — or frankly, in another month from now — where the state is uncomfortable with their presentation of the evidence and wants to be reheard?” Markowitz asked.
The bond should not be reset, Markowitz argued, unless the defendant had done something to affect the case. In Eppinger’s case, aside from the Instagram post that Convery said he did not post, there was no evidence of him taking any action against a witness or an attempt to commit a new felony since his bond was originally set.
Cho argued that increasing the bond was pointless because his client would not have been able to afford it, and even if he could, he would be unable to walk free due to the probation revocation hold. Additionally, he said, the original bond was $100,000 more than what the prosecution recommended Monday.
But Manning stood by her decision.
Eppinger is set to be sentenced Friday for violating his probation. He faces up to 60 years in prison, and Willis said she expects the judge to hand down a hefty sentence.