9 Investigates house arrest failures

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ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates how accused criminals are monitored when they're free on your streets before trial.

Judges have the ability to track a defendant's every move by GPS, but they often don't use that power.

A recent case out of Ocoee raises important questions on the topic: Prosecutors believe 19-year-old Alex Zaldivar was killed in his friend's home by Bessman Okafor one day before Zaldivar was set to testify against Okafor in a home invasion case.

During his time out on bond, Okafor was only monitored under house arrest, not by a GPS.

"He put his butt out there on the line, and the system failed him," said Zaldivar's father, Rafael Zaldivar.

It is judges who decide how suspects will be watched before trial. House arrest monitoring tells authorities just one thing: when the defendant enters or leaves his home.

That is information that should match up with a pre-determined work schedule.

By contrast, GPS monitoring like the maps on smartphones track the defendant's every footstep and every stop around town.

A judge can even set up "exclusion zones," which the defendant may not enter.

Chief Judge Belvin Perry said cost is often the determining factor. Privately operated GPS monitoring costs $15 to $20 a day, plus setup fees and extra charges for exclusion zones.

The county's home arrest systems cost just $5 a day. It is the defendant's responsibility to pay, but since most cannot afford to, the big costs of increased GPS usage would likely fall on taxpayers.

"Do they want to pay for putting GPS on every individual that is charged with a crime? I don't think so," said Perry.

And even GPS with exclusion zones is imperfect. There is often a lag time before private monitors can inform police or a judge that the defendant has broken the rules.

Generally, defendants are entitled to reasonable bonds, depending on their criminal history. But for his part, Rafael Zaldivar wishes his son's killer was never released.

"You have no idea. You have no idea my feelings right now for this guy and his family," said Zaldivar.

There are indications that the use of GPS monitoring may be gaining ground in at least some types of cases.

Seminole County is already relying heavily on GPS and a special alert system in domestic violence cases.

Officials there said they have had no repeat offenders since the program started. Now, Orange County is planning something similar.