Judge denies lower bond for Nacogdoches capital murder suspect

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A Nacogdoches County district judge denied lowering a $500,000 bond for a woman accused in the death of a Nacogdoches man in April.

A lot was learned about the capital murder case due to all the testimony.

Erin Belz will remain in jail on $500,000 bond.

Attorney John Heath Sr. was trying to get the bond reduced to $100,000, an amount initially set before the grand jury indictment. Heath pointed out that Belz voluntarily turned herself in when the bond was raised, but it wasn't enough for Heath to win the argument.

Heath said his biggest challenge was the law itself.

"There's all kinds of cases, appellate court cases, that a $500,000 bond is not oppressive or illegal in a capital murder case," Heath said. "That's the problem. The law gives the judge that leeway."

A grand jury indictment says Belz and Randy Ellinwood caused the death in the process of kidnapping Gilbert Thibodeaux back in April.

Today's hearing indicates how a probable trial may go.

Heath called Nacogdoches police detective Steve Gilcrease. The lead investigator testified, "there's no physical evidence to show Belz physically assaulted Gilbert Thibodeaux," and Belz is "only a party in the crime."

Assistant District Attorney Lauren Gaston turned the tables. Gilcrease told her cell phone records show Belz phoned Thibodeaux for a sexual encounter at her home on Myrtle Street. It appears as a set up for Ellinwood to jump Thibodeaux. According to Gilcrease Ellinwood was angry that Thibodeaux had sex with Belz and another woman he knew.

"He told me he never intended to kill him. That he just wanted to beat him up, " said Gilcrease.

The detective said Ellinwood jumped from the bushes, attacking the man with a pipe. Detectives talked how Belz gave a detailed account how she helped move the body, steal evidence and clean up the crime scene.

In an effort to argue Belz is a danger to society, Gaston presented some startling allegations.

Detective Mike Claude testified an alleged prostitute, in jail with Belz, said Belz wanted to pay her to gather bodily fluid infected from a man with AIDS, and sell it to her so Belz can infect her husband with it. According to Claude, another inmate said Belz gave details of taking photographs of the murder victim and would even accept money for performing acts with farm animals. Claude said the inmate also said Belz told her she had stolen items hidden in her home, including a stolen Rolex she got from a physician with whom she had a sexual encounter.

Heath questioned the investigator about how "snitches" are known to "make up stories". Following the proceeding, Heath commented, "and you heard the testimony from the officer. Based upon their experience they know these people will stretch the truth to try to help their circumstances, so I don't think their credibility in those, I thought, over the top, ridiculous allegations, that's not my problem."

Heath argued Belz conducted daily check-ins with a bondsman when she was out on bond. Gaston presented testimony that Belz successfully removed her GPS ankle bracelet while in jail, indicating she can't follow the rules of release.

"I think it says more about that company and the product," said Heath.

Several friends of the Belz family testified they thought Belz could meet the terms of her bond and not be a flight risk. Following Gaston's questioning the friends testified they didn't know the facts of the case other than media accounts. Some knew her as a child, but had only casual acquaintances with Belz as an adult.

Belz's parents testified they can't pay the higher bond without seeking financial assistance from family and enter into land deals. Should they make the $500,000 bond, Judge Ed Klein has ordered Belz to wear a GPS ankle bracelet once again.

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