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N4T Investigators: Murder, hostage situation suspect on bail during rampage

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TUCSON (KVOA) - A man who detectives believe murdered his girlfriend before taking a family hostage on Tucson's southside last week had a history of domestic violence against the woman he killed.

Authorities said Brandon Watts killed Flor Del Mar Hernandez Tapia the morning of Sept. 7 at a home near Reid Park, then barricaded himself in a motel, taking a mother and her four children hostage.

Now, many are wondering if Watts should have been out on the streets in the first place.

"If you've been accused of a violent crime, then sit in jail and wait for your trial," said Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos.

Sheriff Nanos said he believes last week's murder and hostage situation involving Watts should have never happened in the first place.

According to court documents reviewed by the News 4 Tucson Investigators, Watts was charged with aggravated domestic violence last New Year's Eve. The victim was identified as Flor Del Mar Hernandez Tapia, the woman investigators say Watts killed prior to taking a family hostage on Sept. 7.

Detectives said Watts threw Hernandez against the wall of their bedroom and also assaulted her niece as he fled.

Court documents reveal at the time of the assault, Watts already had two prior domestic violence-related convictions within the past 84 months.

Following his arrest, Watts was given a public defender and his bond was set at $3,500 during his court appearance on Jan. 13.

The following month on Feb. 26, Watts was accused of assaulting two fellow jail inmates. The incident was captured on jail surveillance video. Watts was charged with two additional assault charges, and his bond amount increased by $2,000 to a combined $5,500.

In April, Watts' attorney asked the court to reduce his bond, but a Superior Court judge denied the motion, saying Watts was still a danger to the community.

Then in May, Watts posted bond. The 10% he was required to pay amounted to about $550.

"People who have repeat felony convictions or repeat felony arrests over and over again, they commit a felony, they get out the do it again - they need to be held,"  Retired Deputy Pima County Attorney David Berkman told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.  

Berkman, who headed the Pima County Attorney's Criminal Division for seven years, also believes Tucson City Court magistrates who set bond and conditions of release may lack sufficient experience with violent felony cases, and may rely too heavily on the release recommendations of Pretrial Service assessment forms when determining whether someone is a risk to the community.

Berkman also told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, this potentially dangerous situation has been happening in Pima County for several years.    

"We made efforts to get Pretrial Services to change their forms, and their response was we don't have the resources. Well, we better find the resources, otherwise, it's a real safety issue," Berkman told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Sheriff Nanos told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, the case involving Brandon Watts is a symptom of a larger issue within Pima county's cash-bail system.

"You're in jail for a low-level shoplifting or drug possession, yet the guy who has committed murder or is accused of committing murder is release?" Nanos said. "No, there's got to be a better way." 

In addition to his domestic violence charges in Pima County, the News 4 Tucson Investigators have discovered that Watt's criminal history also included a conviction for manslaughter in New Orleans.

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