AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly one year after murder suspect Kevin Michael Waguespack skipped town just days before his murder trial was set to begin, friends of the victim and even the defendant say they want someone held accountable for his escape and make certain something like this never happens again.

Waguespack disappeared while out on bond after a judge granted the removal of his GPS ankle monitor, one of the conditions of his bond.

The friends, who asked that we conceal their identities, say “Mike” Waguespack and 31-year-old Catherine Dyer were dating at least a few years before her death. They had known each other since high school in Katy, Texas, where they attended different schools but worked together at a local movie theater.

“She found the good in Mike, which was a little tough to do, especially in retrospect,” one friend explained. “She ended up losing her life because she loved the wrong guy.”

They say Dyer loved animals and was a talented programmer.

“She was incredibly kind and generous. She would give you the shirt off her back. She was always there to help if you needed the help,” a friend continued. “I don’t think I saw her ever turn anybody away.”

Waguespack, now 35, is accused of killing Dyer in their north Austin home on Nov. 16, 2015.

Friends who spoke with KXAN were the first to discover Dyer’s body a day later. They were also the last people to see the couple together before the murder.

According to court documents, Waguespack called 911 on Nov. 17 and stated he “killed this woman and her name is Catherine Dyer.” Waguespack was taken into custody after a short standoff with police in Adams County, Mississippi on Nov. 18. 

“The house was horrific,” a friend of Dyer’s explained. “The level of destruction, I’ve never seen like that in my life. I don’t know what was more disturbing — the destruction of the house or the room where we found Catherine. It was insane. I’ve never seen that much rage come from a mortal human being ever in my life. He’s a scary, angry, angry man.”

A friend of Waguespack’s said, “The person who did that wasn’t the Mike I grew up [with] and knew and loved. That was someone else, something else that did that.”

After Waguespack’s extradition to Texas, he was booked into the Travis County Jail and bond was set at $250,000.

In June 2016 — about seven months after his extradition — he posted bond and was released with a GPS monitoring device on his ankle to make sure he wouldn’t run from the law again.

But the following April, Judge Tamara Needles, who serves in the 427th Criminal District Court in Travis County, agreed to Waguespack’s lawyer’s request to have the GPS monitor removed.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard it, especially since he already fled,” Waguespack’s friend said. “You would think that would be the first sign to make you think twice before taking off something like a GPS monitor.”

Despite the fact prosecutors voiced their opposition to the removal in open court and then by email with Judge Needles on April 13, 2017, it was too late. The judge had already signed off on the removal the day before.

KXAN contacted Judge Needles for an interview, but were told because this is a pending case, she is not ethically allowed to give comment.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said it would be months before her office learned the monitor had been removed, and the bail bondsman, too.

“Sadly, our assessment of the flight risk turned out to be correct,” Moore said. “We are very concerned about safety and this remains a high-priority case.”

Just days before Waguespack’s murder trial was set to begin in October 2017, he fled law enforcement once again. He showed up to all his pretrial hearings until Oct. 19, when he was supposed to appear in court at a final hearing before the start of his trial on Oct. 23.

“These are decisions that judges make and they make them without any real accountability,” Moore said. “I’m always hopeful that judges will take their job as seriously as we think they should. Her decisions have to be scrutinized. We do that every day.”

Following Waguespack’s no-show, his bond was revoked and the judge issued an arrest warrant. 

The district attorney says she is still optimistic law enforcement will ultimately track down Waguespack and he will eventually face trial. She says her office is taking every step they can to try and capture him.

According to court paperwork filed for the GPS removal, Waguespack’s defense attorney said his client had been successful on the GPS monitoring bond condition and he requested this removal “due to employment concerns.”

“It’s extremely disappointing and it’s not the way the system should work,” said Moore. “We have a duty here to seek justice and we take that extremely seriously.”

In addition to his murder charge, Waguespack has now been indicted on a bond jumping charge. 

The outcome came as no surprise to the couple’s friends. They blame Judge Needles.

“I don’t know what her agenda was, but it was not justice for Catherine.”

“She all but drove him to the bus station, essentially in my mind and none of this should have happened,” one friend explained. “I don’t know what her agenda was, but it was not justice for Catherine.”

“Whatever may happen in the future, I feel like it’s on her hands,” another friend added.

Going forward, knowing that Judge Needles remains on the bench, the friends say they are concerned about the future of justice in Travis County.

“She should have taken much closer consideration into the details of this [case] and what a threat he is, was, and will continue to be because of her choices.”

While the friends say they want Needles to take responsibility for what happened, with no answers from the judge, they say they’re left missing the woman they loved and holding out hope that Waguespack will one day be brought to justice.

“We’ve healed as much as we can without the trial actually happening,” one friend explained. “We feel like we’re getting so close to closure and justice, and then it’s just stripped away.”

They say the county needs to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“How is this going to be prevented? Is this preventable? And, if not, then something seriously needs to be done in order to put these checks and balances in place,” one friend said. “I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. It is a gut-wrenching feeling and you’re never going to know when it’s going to be over now.” 

In Texas, a defendant’s bond conditions are reviewed and decided solely by a judge on an individual case-by-case basis. Because the people of Travis County voted in Judge Needles, the only real recourse for friends and family, in this case, would have to come at the ballot box.

High-risk defendants accused of committing crimes on bond

Waguespack’s case is the third of its kind KXAN has investigated in 2018 regarding high-risk suspects jumping bail in Travis County.

In May, KXAN investigated Michael Francis Vanorder, the man convicted by a Travis County jury in February for child sex crimes dating back to the 1990s. One of the victims in the case — now an adult man living in Georgetown — says he endured traumatizing sexual abuse that began the day he turned 14. 

After the initial incident, court documents indicate Vanorder would continue to manipulate the teenage boy and another boy for a number of years. When the victim turned 19 years old, he came forward and reported the abuse to the Austin Police Department.

Vanorder was arrested shortly after the victim filed his complaint. After Vanorder posted bond, he reportedly made some court appearances but he ultimately fled the state and moved to Arizona. Vanorder resided there — fleeing the charges against him in Travis County — for years. It would be more than 20 years after the initial incident that Vanorder faced a jury trial.

Then, in August, we examined the case of defendant Xavier Oneal Lewis. Police said Lewis, 19 years old at the time, confessed to being high on drugs and shooting Ebony Sheppard, a young mother, during an attempted robbery in December 2017.

Lewis was already out on bond, after being charged in 2016 with robbing a Sonic in north Austin at gunpoint and shooting a store manager in the leg more than a year before.

Xavier Lewis. (Austin Police Department)

The day before Sheppard’s murder, police say Lewis robbed a group of people near Dottie Jordan Park and shot two of them as he got away.

Later that day he was suspected of carjacking a woman and running over a pedestrian, according to police records. He had been indicted but was out on bond and wearing an ankle monitor during the alleged crime spree.

Family members close to the victim said they didn’t understand why Lewis was allowed to be released on bond given his apparent violent history and couldn’t understand how Lewis could continue to break the law while wearing a monitor.

Bail reform at the State Capitol

KXAN reached out to State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, last month to talk with him about the ability some defendants had to flee their charges for years and in some cases, decades. Moody is a former prosecutor and has taken a particular interest in criminal justice matters in the state legislature.

“One of the big focal points in criminal justice reform is right-sizing penalties, and bail jumping should be part of that discussion,” Moody said. “Whether that means tying punishment more closely to the offense the person fled prosecution for or to the manner or length of flight, it’s worth taking a look at.”

Moody says this issue is something that could be evaluated during the next legislative session which begins in January.

At the end of August, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that will make the state the first in the nation to eliminate bail for suspects awaiting trial.

The bill, slated to take effect October 2019, will replace bail with a risk-assessment system instead of relying purely on someone’s ability to come up with the funds to post bond.

California State Sen. Robert Hertzberg co-wrote the bill which he says replaces a money system with a detention system.

“The system is not safe. The chief justice says current money bail is neither safe nor fair. I think what you`re going to see now is safe and fair,” said Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles.

After a defendant’s risk to public safety and the likelihood of the failure to appear back in court is determined, those who are “high-risk” would remain in custody until they are arraigned.

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