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Harrisburg murder suspect released from jail four days before homicide

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- When Markus Williams was arrested this week and charged with committing Harrisburg's 9th homicide of the year, it was the latest in a crime-filled year for the 29-year-old.

Just four days before police say Williams shot and killed Bryan Taylor on the 1400 block of Vernon Street, he was released from prison  thanks to a modified bail.

Williams was in jail after police say he threatened to kill a woman who was testifying at his brother's murder trial. He was arrested for the crime June 22 and was unable to post a $25,000 bail set forth by Judge Sondra McKnight. However, on July 26, Judge Paul Zozos reduced the bond from "monetary" to "unsecured" which allows defendants to pay a bond at a later date.

Williams walked out of jail, essentially for free.

Assistant District Attorney Fran Chardo says unsecured bail is designed for people who have no money, while maintaining the basic tenant that one is innocent until proven guilty. However, there is one major flaw.

"[The money] is virtually uncollectable," Chardo says. "That's why its called unsecured bail."

In the early hours of June 30, four days after leaving Dauphin County Prison, Williams shot and killed Bryan Taylor, according to Harrisburg Police. Pennlive first reported Williams shot Taylor when he tried to intervene in an argument outside an after hours club.

"There are a lot of factors which go into a bail and the magisterial district judges don't have a crystal ball that tells them whether someone will commit a crime," Chardo says.

The district judges are the ones responsible for ultimately setting bail, according to Dauphin County President Judge Richard Lewis. While there are no official guidelines for how judges set bail, Lewis says they typically consider a defendant's prior record, as well as their occupation (Do they have a steady income?) and family life (Do they have a solid family life?). All questions are designed to make sure bail secures the defendant will appear for a trial.

However, in the case of Markus Williams' bail modification, the Dauphin County District Attorney's office says they were never notified of Judge Zozos' plans.

The majority of cases, Chardo says, bail modifications are discussed with law enforcement officials, whether they are police investigating the case or the attorneys prosecuting it. However, it's far too often, like the recent case with Markus Williams, where it doesn't happen.

"Give notice to the other side, a hearing," Chardo says. "Hearing from everyone who has knowledge of it before making a decision is absolutely essential. The more information a magisterial district judge has the better."

Williams' arrest on June 22 came after police say he threatened to kill a woman who witnessed a 2015 murder involving his brother, John McDonald.

McDonald was convicted earlier this year of killing Todd Dunlap in May 2015 outside the Forever Nights after hours club on South 19th Street in Harrisburg. Similarly to the way Bryan Taylor was reportedly shot and killed, Dunlap intervened in an argument between McDonald and a woman. McDonald hit Dunlap in the head with his gun, then shot him in the head before leaving the scene.

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse and District Attorney Ed Marsico have asked district judges to put a $100,000 minimum bail on arrests involving gun crimes.

In December, Glenn Walker III was accused of shooting at people outside of a Harrisburg bar. When he was arrested, a bail was posted at $25,000 by Judge George Zozos, the father of the judge who modified Markus Williams' bail in July.  Walker posted the bond, and a few days later, he was arrested on drug charges, and was assigned a $200,000 bail, which was reduced again to $25,000.

In March, police say Walker fatally shot John Thomas Carter, 36, the nephew of Harrisburg Police Tom Carter. Walker is currently facing trial for the crime.