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The Man Held on $9,999,999 Bail

How a Tennessee judge ensured that an accused cop-killer would not go free.

Tremaine Wilbourn, the man accused of shooting and killing a Memphis police officer on August 1, won’t be making bail. Judge Mark Ward made sure of that by setting the figure at $9,999,999. “That was the highest bond I ever set,” the judge said proudly.

In Tennessee, every defendant has a right to bail, with the exception of suspects like Wilbourn, who might face capital charges. So why did Judge Ward bother setting bail on what could ultimately be a death-penalty case? Habit. When police showed up to his house over the weekend to have him sign a warrant for Wilbourn’s arrest, he set bail automatically. “If I had to do it over again, I would have written in that little blank ‘no bond.’”

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Not that there was any chance the accused would find a bondsman. “Usually when a judge sets an odd amount like that, they are trying to communicate to the bonding community that if you make this bond, we’ll burn your backside,” said Charles White, president of the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents. “But to be honest, there’s not a bonding company in Memphis that could make that.”

How did the judge arrive at $9,999,999? He meant to set bail at $10 million, but the court’s computerized bail form only has room for seven digits.