AMITE — The bail for a Kenner woman suspected but not charged in the death and dismembering of New Orleans dancer Jaren Lockhart was reduced from $250,000 to $35,000 on Wednesday.
The counts against 29-year-old Margaret Sanchez — failure to signal, resisting an officer by giving misinformation and harboring a sex offender — are not sufficient to warrant a bail that exceeds the 21st Judicial District’s own guidelines even for defendants in a murder case, Judge Ernest Drake ruled.
The district’s “bond schedule” calls for $150,000 bail in murder cases, Drake said during a hearing on a defense motion to reduce Sanchez’s bail. Charges related to sex crimes have bail recommendations ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, he said.
Noting that no listed criminal count calls for a bail as high as $250,000, Drake asked, “Is there anything so heinous about this case as to indicate a need to go higher than what’s on the schedule?”
Assistant Public Defender Allen Harvey said Sanchez’s bail should be set at $25,000, based on a catch-all provision for felonies not specifically listed on the schedule. Harboring a sex offender is an unlisted offense, he said.
Assistant District Attorney Britain Sledge objected to that, saying Sanchez is a danger to public safety.
“There’s a 1,000-pound elephant in this room, and nobody’s talking about it,” Drake said, noting that Sanchez is a suspect in Lockhart’s death. “But that’s not what she’s charged with.”
Lockhart was reported missing June 6 after she did not return home from working at a Bourbon Street strip club. Her partial remains and clothing later washed ashore on several Mississippi beaches, beginning June 7 in Hancock County.
Sanchez and Terry Speaks, 38, a convicted sex offender from North Carolina, were found and arrested in Tangipahoa Parish on June 12 after police received calls identifying the pair as the couple seen on a surveillance video leaving the club with Lockhart around 2 a.m. the day she was reported missing.
Neither Sanchez nor Speaks has been charged in Lockhart’s death.
Setting bail higher than the $25,000 recommended under the district’s guidelines would be like giving a judicial seal of approval for holding defendants based on the mere possibility of charges elsewhere, Harvey said.
Sanchez appeared in court on June 13-14 for extradition to Hancock County.
But Mississippi authorities had not requested her extradition, Harvey said, and jail records indicate neither Hancock County nor any other jurisdiction had ever placed a hold on her.
Sanchez refused to waive extradition proceedings on June 14 and posted $1,500 bail on at 10:32 p.m. June 15, Harvey said.
An hour later, around 11:30 p.m., the jail requested a coroner’s protective order on Sanchez, Harvey said.
Sanchez remained in jail during the weekend and three days later, on the morning of June 18, she was taken to a mental health facility for evaluation, Harvey said.
She returned to the jail later that afternoon “with no indication that she was a danger to herself or others,” Harvey said, and was immediately arrested on a new count of harboring a sex offender.
Two days later, her bail was raised to $250,000, he said.
Drake said he had voted against the district’s bail guidelines when they were first proposed, believing many of them to be too low.
“But giving some credence to the schedule,” he said he reduced Sanchez’s bail to $35,000.
Sanchez was returned to custody in the Tangipahoa Parish Jail following Wednesday’s bail reduction hearing.
Drake scheduled a preliminary examination hearing, requested by the defense, for July 24 before Judge Brenda Ricks, to whom the case was assigned.