COEUR d'ALENE — Were Kootenai County judges too lenient with accused killer and domestic abuser Steven Denson?
Letters to The Press and streams of social media comments following the March 8 death of Kelly Pease — the ex-fiance Denson allegedly shot before taking his own life — suggest yes.
“Good going Judge Eckhart and Judge Stow, Kelly’s blood is all over your hands!” commenter Harold Komm posted on CdAPress.com. “History repeats itself, especially with what he did and there was evidence from clear back in the 80’s. Cant say that their was no indicators that he was violent, there was plenty of those.”
In late January, Denson, 61, was charged with felony attempted strangulation and domestic battery against Pease, a 37-year-old mother of five. Judge Anna Eckhart set the bond at $10,000 for Denson, the same man two ex-wives filed three protective orders against during the span of 2009-2015, all in Kootenai County. Prosecutors suggested a $50,000 bond.
Denson soon posted bail and violated the no-contact order Feb. 4, when he allegedly texted Pease with his landlord's phone.
The bond for failing to heed Eckhart's order, a misdemeanor offense, was set at $2,500 by Judge James Stow. In this case, prosecutors suggested a $5,000 bond.
Last week, Pease was found dead in a car parked at Kootenai Health with a gunshot wound to her head. Denson, wanted for first-degree murder, shot himself the following day.
Denson, who was married five times, also had a restraining order against him in Washingon dating back to the 1980s.
The Press attempted to reach Eckhart and Stow for comment regarding the bail amounts, but the court had Karlene Behringer, a District I court administrator, field questions.
"It's all within the judge's discretion," Behringer said. "The bail is set within the guidelines of Idaho Rule 46."
Judges use Rule 46 to assess a variety of factors including the severity of the case, the likelihood a defendant has to re-offend or skip court.
Behringer believes Eckhart and Stow set adequate bail amounts.
"I know these judges here are serious about following the law, applying the law and doing what's best for the community," Behringer said. "This was a tragic situation and I know these judges wouldn't purposely put anyone in harm's way."
Behringer said the judges may not have been aware of Denson's history in Washington, noting it's not uncommon for judges to be unaware of out-of-state, non-felony offenses.
Coeur d'Alene bail bondsman Chris Skinner, who owns Quick Release Bail Bonds, has helped provide bail to many domestic violence suspects in his 10 years.
He has seen judges set bonds for such domestic-related cases all over the spectrum, ranging from $5,000 to $500,000.
"$10,000 seems to be on the low end for a bail amount," Skinner said of Denson's January bond. "But I do believe judges adhere to the Rule 46. They also have to adhere to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution."
The Eighth Amendment notes "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
Idaho’s bail bond schedule, which applies pending arraignment or trial and can be adjusted by a judge or magistrate, does not provide an amount for stalking, domestic assault, battery or violation of a no-contact order. It states no bond amount can be set until a court appearance. However, several hunting offenses involving big game animals do have an amount set: $10,000, which is equal to the bond set for Denson when he was charged with felony strangulation and domestic battery against Pease.
Skinner has also seen alleged domestic abusers who break no-contact orders be given a bail amount that at least matches the bail from the initial domestic offense.
"My advice to someone out on bail is to be careful of not breaking that no-contact order," Skinner said. "The bail could be just as much as the domestic charge."