THE BRONX — Pedro Hernandez, the teenager held at Rikers Island awaiting his trial on gun and assault charges since last year, will be released on bail posted by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization, a judge ruled on Wednesday afternoon.
Judge William I. Mogulescu lowered the bail, at the request of the Bronx Assistant District Attorney David Slott, from $255,000 for two cases to $100,000.
Hernandez, 18, was charged July 14, 2016 with criminal possession of a weapon, criminal possession of a firearm, assault and reckless endangerment. He was also charged in 2015 for a robbery case. He has refused to take a plea deal, claiming he is not guilty.
Slott, who mentioned in court that Hernandez has multiple indictments and an infraction history at Rikers, as well as a gang affiliation, said there had been reports of eight or nine eyewitnesses that will prove the defendant innocent.
"The District Attorney’s Office would like nothing more than to speak with every witness," he said.
He said that in Sept 2015 the defense team said there were four eyewitnesses but would only produce one. The victim of the shooting, he said, had reported walking away and didn’t see who shot him.
Hernandez's civil attorney, John Scola, denied Pedro was ever part of a gang and said that he believes that the Bronx DA's office has interviewed several of the eyewitnesses.
Many Rikers Island reform advocates see echoes of the Kalief Browder case in Hernandez's predicament. Both Hernandez and Browder were teens when they were arrested and held in the city jail, both were forced to spend their time before trial incarcerated because their families could not afford the high bail set and both refused plea deals.
"Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights got involved because we believe that the pre-trial justice system in New York is fundamentally broken and we've learned lessons from the tragedies like Kalief Browder that teenagers should not be locked up on Rikers Island solely because their families can't afford to pay bail," Wade McMullen, managing attorney for the human rights group. "Pedro's a perfect case of someone who presents no flight risk whatsoever and had been pressured to trying to take a guilty plea simply because his family couldn't afford to purchase his freedom and so we've stepped in to raise awareness that this practice has to stop, these policies need to be reformed."
Hernandez's mother, Jessica Perez, was in the courtroom for Wednesday's bail hearing but declined to comment. However, in an interview last week she said that the time in jail has been hard on her son.
“It’s been a lot of emotional ups and downs with him,” she said. Though he had been humiliated and hurt in jail, “he turned that into the good,” she said, earning a high school equivalency diploma and going on to teach other kids. Perez had recently started a crowdfunding site to raise her son's bail.
“We are very fortunate the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights saw the story about Pedro and they were willing to post the bail for him," Hernandez's lawyer David D. Narain said after the hearing. "We’ll get Pedro out as soon as we can.”
His trial is expected to begin Sept. 6.