Cyrus Gray had sat in the Hays County Jail for 4½ years, facing a weak case on a capital murder charge, unable to raise a $250,000 bond. But in a surprise development on Nov. 9, one day after a blue wave election in San Marcos, District Judge Bruce Boyer agreed to lower the bond to $70,000. Gray was released the next day.
"I was hoping it would happen but I honestly didn't expect it to happen the way it did, so I'm very grateful," Gray told the Chronicle. "I walked out a door, walked down the sidewalk, and everybody was waiting in the parking lot. I got to hug my mom after almost five years, spend time with my girlfriend, spend time with some good, close friends."
Gray was a physical trainer with no criminal background and no history of violence when he was arrested in 2018, along with childhood friend Devonte Amerson, for the murder of Texas State student Justin Gage. At his trial this summer, Hays County prosecutors argued that either Gray or Amerson – they couldn't say which – had shot Gage in an attempt to steal an ounce of marijuana. To try to prove their case, prosecutors supplied cellphone tower records placing Gray and Amerson within about 10 miles of the scene of the murder. They also relied on the testimony of three witnesses who said Gray had told them of a drug deal gone wrong.
However, under cross-examination by Gray's court-appointed attorney Paul Parash, two of the witnesses recanted their testimony on the stand, saying they'd lied after being intimidated by San Marcos detectives. The third witness was shown by Parash to have repeatedly changed his story. And, as Parash and others have emphasized, the prosecutors had no eyewitness placing Gray at the scene of the murder, no DNA evidence connecting him to the crime, and no murder weapon. "That's not enough evidence," Parash told us. "You got cellphone towers, which means he was in San Marcos – and that's about it. You got two people who said they lied and someone else who basically has told many different stories … and that's the evidence."
Gray's case was ultimately declared a mistrial after several jurors came down with COVID. But Parash said that votes taken at the end of each of four days of jury deliberation showed that at least half the jurors were ready to vote acquittal. Still, prosecutors immediately announced their decision to retry Gray. The retrial is scheduled for February.
Boyer presided over Gray's trial and Parash speculates that his evaluation of the evidence helped inform the decision to set the bond at $70,000, which is low for a capital murder charge. Others believe that the assurances of San Marcos social justice group Mano Amiga and its spinoff group Hays County Jail Advocates factored into the judge's decision. Mano Amiga arranged for Gray to stay with a local supporter – one of the conditions of the bond is that he not return to his parents' home in the Houston area – and also pledged that he would work with the Jail Advocates as a researcher, providing him with a stable income.
Mano Amiga is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which means it can't support candidates for office, but it has become an important player in Hays County politics nonetheless, with its advocacy for criminal justice reform and in other arenas. The group supported San Marcos' Proposition A this year, the "reeferendum" to decriminalize marijuana use in the city. Mano Amiga set up tables at Texas State and registered over a thousand new voters. Prop A went on to win approval with 82% of the vote. In the process it drove up progressive voter turnout; Democrats or progressives won 10 of 12 area races. The Hays County Commissioners Court, District Attorney's Office, and three judgeships were flipped from Republican to Democratic control. The turnout may have saved the job of Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra, who won by just over 1%.
"Prop A in my opinion won these elections," said Amy Kamp, the leader of Hays County Jail Advocates. "Without Prop A, does [Democratic D.A. candidate] Kelly [Higgins] win? Without Prop A, does Ruben squeak in by 800 votes?" (He ended up winning by 926; read more.)
Kamp also draws a straight line between the election results and Gray's release. "With it happening on Wednesday, right after the election, it just seemed like the vibe in Boyer's courtroom was very different. When Boyer entered the courtroom, he was like, 'It's a brave new world.' Those were literally the first words out of his mouth."
Meanwhile, Devonte Amerson, accused of the same murder as Gray under Texas' "law of parties," remains locked up with a bond of $500,000. Prosecutors have spoken in the past of conducting his trial after Gray's, so he will have been held at least five years by the time any trial occurs. Kamp told us she attended the election party of incoming D.A. Kelly Higgins on Nov. 8 and asked him about the Gray and Amerson cases. Higgins declined to discuss them. At the Chronicle's request for comment on these cases, Higgins declined.
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