Karen Heller: In Aldea case, a failure to communicate

Jorge Aldea, who was freed on bail, is charged in the killing of Reyna Aguirre-Alonso.
Jorge Aldea, who was freed on bail, is charged in the killing of Reyna Aguirre-Alonso.
Posted: February 05, 2012

On two facts, everyone seems to agree:

Jorge Aldea is an unrepentant criminal who should never have been released from the Philadelphia prison system.

And Reyna Aguirre-Alonso, a mini-mart clerk and potential witness to one of Aldea's alleged murders, may well be dead because he was.

After that, everything falls apart.

The police and District Attorney's Office had enough evidence to arrest Aldea on suspicion of murder on Jan. 6. There would have been no problem taking him into custody on that charge. Police already had him locked up on a gun possession.

And he would not have been released. There's no bail in murder cases.

Instead, police said a warrent was not issued until the afternoon of Jan. 11.

That's a shame because at 5 that morning, Aldea put down $2,000 and was in the wind, as the cops say.

Twelve days later, authorities charge, he had accomplices murder Aguirre-Alonso.

That wasn't the only blown chance to keep Aldea behind bars. Earlier in January, Common Pleas Court Judge Nazario Jimenez Jr. reduced bail on the gun charge from $50,000 to $20,000. He did this although Aldea's record is horrific - three charges of attempted murder, shooting a baby in the neck and face, one charge of escape.

No one informed the judge Aldea was a murder suspect.

It took Aldea five days to raise bail. If the amount had been higher, he might have remained in prison.

"In a perfect world, this is the perfect example of an individual who, all things remaining equal, should remain in custody and not be a menace to society," said Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

In the ensuing days, there's been plenty of anger and finger-pointing. Mayor Nutter was angry at the judge for lowering bail, labeling Aldea "exhibit number one" of the challenges police face in keeping violent criminals locked up.

But why wasn't Aldea charged with murder sooner? By early January, the cops had eyewitnesses who had identified Aldea as the man who killed Louis Chevere in November - and a ballistics match to tie Aldea's gun to the shooting at Chevere's sidewalk memorial.

Wasn't that enough?

After Aguirre-Alonso's death, the Police Department maintains it tried to charge Aldea with murder Jan. 6, and again Jan. 10. The department insists that each time it tried to obtain an arrest warrant, District Attorney Seth Williams' office kicked the case back for further investigation and review.

The D.A.'s Office disputed that. Prosecutors said it was police who delayed.

What's clear is that a brazen criminal wasn't charged with murder quickly enough.

In his 12 arrests, many for violent crimes, Aldea never received a prison sentence. Frightened witnesses didn't show, cases collapsed. This time, Aldea was in custody. The cops had witnesses. They had a case.

Cops know who the bad guys are, the comparatively small percentage of perpetrators who commit the most violent crimes. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison labels Aldea "a poster child" for that demographic.

We understand that there are thousands of cases and suspects coursing through the criminal justice system, but the worst of the worst should be held to different, tougher standards.

Aldea's arrest report was marked "High Bail Request," but maybe authorities need to use bigger, bolder type, possibly in red. Bells should go off. Gillison told me, "I'm working on having a better interface so information moves faster and electronically across cyberspace."

After Aguirre-Alonso's death and the failures to communicate in the midst of our bloody January, Nutter and Williams announced tougher charges for anyone found with an illegal gun. They offered $20,000 for information leading to arrest and conviction in any homicide.

What kind of incentive is a $20,000 reward if a whole neighborhood has seen a woman murdered after talking to the cops?

Now, police have Aldea in custody, along with three accomplices, on a warrant for a second murder, that of Aguirre-Alonso.

"I'm not going to get into who did what, who knew what when," Williams said. "It won't lead us anywhere."

No, I think the opposite. Go back. Figure out who did what, who knew what when, fix the system, and target the worst offenders so that every Aldea that's locked up stays behind bars.


Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586, kheller@phillynews.com, or @kheller on Twitter. Read her past columns at www.philly.com/KarenHeller

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