$75,000 bond for teen slaying suspect Trial set for Feb. 21 for Tyla Vega, 14

Published 11:59 pm Friday, August 12, 2011

Angry outbursts and loud sobbing met Warren County Circuit Court Judge Isadore Patrick’s ruling Friday to set bond at $75,000 for 14-year-old homicide suspect Tyla Vega, whom a Warren County Sheriff’s Office investigator testified has confessed to shooting her stepmother in the face on May 2 and fleeing from multiple law enforcement agencies.

Friday night, she was in the Warren County Jail, where she has been held since her arrest May 8 in Greenville.

The bond hearing had been requested by Vega’s attorney, Marshall Sanders, when she was arraigned on the murder charge May 28. She had previously been held without bond at the order of County Judge Johnny Price at a hearing following her arrest.

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Vega is accused of shooting Michelle Vega, who was 32, at the family home at 100 Jones Road, then stealing her parents’ car and driving to Greenville where she eluded capture for nearly a week.

“Unfortunately for this community, there have been a number of tragedies this year,” Patrick said in his ruling. “Bond is not a reflection of innocence or guilt. It is merely to say the defendant will be there when the trial comes. Just as Winifred Allen, who is accused in the tragedy of shooting his own son, is entitled to bond, so is (Tyla Vega).”

As family members and friends of Michelle Vega reacted loudly to the decision, deputies rushed Tyla Vega out of the courtroom, across Grove Street and back to the jail, while others worked to restore order.

Allen, 64, was indicted for murder by the grand jury two weeks ago in the shooting death of Gerald Wayne “Jerry” Allen, who was 36.

Bond for Winifred Allen, who surrendered to deputies minutes after the shooting, had been set at $150,000. He also had been scheduled for a court appearance Friday on a motion to reduce his bond, but he posted the full amount Aug. 1 and was released from the Warren County Jail.

Vega’s emotionally charged hearing pitted family member against family member and led to tense, angry outbursts starting before Patrick convened court.

More than 15 family members and friends of Michelle Vega, most wearing purple or gray T-shirts bearing the slain woman’s photograph and the words, “In Loving Memory…Michelle” on the backs, gathered on benches on one side of the courtroom. They included Jason Vega — father of Tyla and husband of the slain woman — along with Kathy Peay, Michelle Vega’s mother, and many of her aunts, cousins and others who opposed any bond for the teen.

On the other side of the courtroom, Tyla Vega’s grandmother, Nancy Voytko, and two aunts, Alecia Vega and Veronica Jones — mother and sisters of Jason Vega — sat, preparing to testify in support of releasing the teen on bond.

“Y’all are gonna burn in hell for what you’re doing,” Jason Vega told the three women before Patrick entered the courtroom. As deputies ordered him to sit down and be quiet, or leave the courtroom, he added loudly, “I haven’t done anything wrong. I lost my wife.”

After a mid-morning recess following Patrick’s handling of other cases, deputies cleared the courtroom and used a metal detector on those re-entering for the bond hearing.

Testifying first, Voytko said she has a good relationship with her granddaughter and will house and take care of her in her Tallulah, La., home if the teen is released on bond.

“She’s never given me any reason to say ‘no, I don’t want you here,’” Voytko testified. “She wouldn’t be going anywhere unless the court said it was OK.”

Jones and Alecia Vega, the teen’s aunts, also testified they would put up bond money, help supervise the teen and guarantee her appearance at her trial, set for Feb. 21 in Warren County Circuit Court.

But Deputy Randy Lewis, who oversees criminal investigations for the sheriff’s office, testified that after Tyla Vega was arrested in Greenville, she ultimately confessed to shooting Michelle Vega, who, just hours before she was killed, had filed a complaint against the teen in Warren County Youth Court for “unauthorized use of a vehicle.”

“We’ve shown she’s a flight risk,” District Attorney Ricky Smith said.

Following the hearing, Peay said the family is concerned that Tyla Vega, if she bonds out and goes to live with Voytko in Tallulah, won’t return for trial.

“My whole family is upset about it,” Peay said. “I wouldn’t have been happy about any amount, but I would have been OK had he set a higher bond. Seventy-five thousand means roughly $8,000 that they have to come up with. It’s a lot of money, but you can come up with $8,000.”

But Sanders said Patrick followed the law.

“The constitution in this case allows the judge to set a reasonable bond,” Sanders said. “And in the case of a defendant absconding, absolutely they could be followed and brought back, followed not only into another state but another country.”

In the aftermath, Jason Vega was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of disturbance of the peace.

After loudly protesting Patrick’s decision in the courtroom, he continued as he reached the back doors of the courthouse, Sheriff Martin Pace said.

“He kept having words with other people, was very loud and using abusive profanity,” Pace said. “Deputies told him to either be quiet or leave, and he did neither so he was placed under arrest.”

Jason Vega was out of jail on $1,500 bond Friday night.

Also, Michelle Vega’s cousin suffered a mild seizure and an ambulance was called to attend to her, another family member said, but the woman refused to be taken to the hospital.