The man accused of hacking his pregnant wife and two children to death with a bush ax 24 years ago could be released from the Muscogee County jail -- if he can come up with $300,000 and a high-tech tracking system so authorities instantly can monitor his movements.
Those were among the conditions Superior Court Judge John Allen set for releasing Michael Curry until his case goes to trial. Allen set a bond of $100,000 for each of the victims: Curry's wife Ann, 24, who was eight months' pregnant, daughter Erika, 4, and son Ryan, 20 months, found dead Aug. 29, 1985, inside their Rockhurst Drive home.
Allen also ordered that Curry obtain no passport and travel only to go to work, to church or to the doctor. As for his home in Dalton, Ga., where he was living and working for a local school district when he was arrested May 20, Curry will have to get someone else to settle his affairs there, Allen said.
District Attorney Julia Slater questioned whether the Muscogee Sheriff's Office had the technology to fit Curry with a global-positioning system tracking device enabling officers to follow him "in real time." Allen said the technology is available, and it will be up to the defense to obtain it and pay for it. Curry is not to leave the jail until then, Allen said.
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Curry's attorney, Public Defender Robert Wadkins, said that if Curry can raise the bond, he will stay with his mother, Joyce Curry, here in Columbus.
Curry's gaining bond was one of several developments during a 90-minute hearing today. Allen also quashed all but six of the 11 charges on which he had been indicted by a grand jury earlier this year. He now faces six counts of murder: three of felony murder and three of malice murder.
He had been indicted also on aggravated assault and feticide, charges Wadkins challenged because the statute of limitations on aggravated assault had expired and the feticide charge did not exist at the time of the slayings.
Much of the evidence presented at today's hearing put the media on trial, not the defendant.
Pressing for a change of venue on claims that coverage of the crimes and of Curry's arrest has been so inflammatory and prejudicial that Curry can not get a fair trial in Muscogee County, Wadkins presented an array of news accounts he said would taint a local jury. Among his examples:
* A TV news story on Curry's arrest, in which the reporter stated that "51-year-old Michael Curry is finally behind bars." Wadkins said "finally" implied Curry should have been in jail all along.
* A TV clip in which Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren compared the 1985 bush-ax slayings to the infamous "Stocking Stranglings" in which seven elderly women were brutally slain in 1977-1978. Wadkins called that "inflammatory."
* A TV story reporting "Officials say Michael Curry was a suspect from day one." Wadkins attributed that to Mayor Jim Wetherington, who was interviewed for the story and was police chief when the killings happened.
* A Ledger-Enquirer article -- citing a newspaper report on Curry's arrest in Dalton, Ga., where he was living at the time -- that said a neighbor there had a problem with Curry's dogs. This could only "exacerbate public opinion against him," Wadkins said.
* A May 31 Ledger-Enquirer story on the Vidocq Society of Philadelphia, a group of criminologists Columbus police consulted while investigating the Curry case. The article quoted a spokesman for that group, who said that "psycho-linguistics experts" had reviewed statements Curry made to police the night of the slayings. They concluded the person making those statements "had guilty knowledge and was lying," the spokesman said. Wadkins assumed they reviewed a police transcript of Curry's statements, which he said was marred by inaccuracies and mistranslations.
* An Aug. 9 Ledger-Enquirer story about defendants accused of heinous crimes. It pictured Curry along with other murder suspects such as O.J. Simpson with the headline "How could anyone defend them?" The story's opening line was, "When we all know he did it, shouldn't the trial be just a formality?" Said Wadkins: "That in itself is enough to prevent a fair trial in Muscogee County."
* Repeated Ledger-Enquirer reports that on the day of the slayings, Curry -- who told investigators he spent much of that day shopping for a box fan for The Bradley Center, where he worked -- bought a fan at the Macon Road Kmart at 1:10 p.m. A receipt shows the purchase in fact was made at 12:55 p.m., Wadkins said. "To have that inaccuracy pounded in ... that's going to find it's way to the jury," he said.
That timing could be crucial in determining whether Michael Curry had time to commit the crimes, because Ann Curry's mother, Bernice Johnson, told police Ann left her Fairview Drive house with the children around 12:30 or 12:45 p.m. the day of the killings.
Slater countered that Wadkins was citing sentences out of context, and not mentioning the parts of press reports that would be favorable to Curry's defense, such as Wadkins' telling reporters he felt Slater was prosecuting Curry to boost her public image. She noted also that the Aug. 9 report about defending those accused of heinous crimes emphasized that defendants are innocent until found guilty, regardless of the emotion and media coverage such cases draw.
The district attorney also argued that the standard for change of venue required enough pervasive, slanted press coverage to make a fair trial impossible. Wadkins had not proved that, and the court would not know the extent to which potential jurors were affected until a jury pool was summoned and questioned, she said.
Allen concluded that he could not decide Tuesday on Wadkins' motion for change of venue: "I don't think at this point I can make that determination," he said. He said he would take the motion "under advisement," possibly ruling later. How the media coverage continues could affect his decision, he said.
Outside the courtroom, Wadkins told reporters he planned to file a new motion claiming Columbus police arrested Curry the night of the slayings, when Curry was detained for hours and questioned after reporting that he found his family dead when he got home from work about 5:30 p.m. He was released without charge about 2:30 a.m.
Wadkins said Curry's confinement and questioning that night constituted an arrest, and having been arrested 24 years before he was indicted, his right to a speedy trial has been violated.
Curry ran to a neighbor's house to report finding the bodies, and was behaving so hysterically that police restrained and handcuffed him and put him in the back of a patrol car, officers said.