A York-area businessman accused in two murder-for-hire cases is a danger to society who could flee the jurisdiction if released from prison pending trial, a York County judge said Tuesday.
But Common Pleas Judge Thomas H. Kelley VI set bail for Gregory Allen Hess anyway, at $20 million — $10 million for each case.
"He's a flight risk. He's a threat to the community," Kelley said. "That's my default position."
Kelley said he set bail in the cases because he wants Hess to get credit for the prison time he serves while waiting for his criminal cases to be resolved, assuming he were to be found guilty in either case.
But the judge clearly intended to set bail high enough to ensure Hess remains in York County Prison.
Prior bail: Hess had been free on bail for about two weeks on his first murder-for-hire case when he was charged with a second set of similar allegations.
At that point, his $10 million bail was revoked by Kelley.
In considering bail on Tuesday, the judge asked defense attorney Farley Holt and chief deputy prosecutor David Sunday what amount would be prudent.
"A million (dollars) would be reasonable," Holt said.
"The commonwealth's position is that (Hess) should not receive any bail at all," Sunday told the judge. Sunday suggested $20 million, which is the amount Kelley decided on.
"Is there even an approved bail bondsman in this county that can (cover that amount)?" Holt asked. "I doubt it."
Flight issue: Holt also took issue with Kelley's statement that Hess could flee the area.
"I disagree my client is a flight risk," Holt told Kelley. "If he was going to flee, he would've taken off (already)."
"But I believe that was before he caught his second charge," the judge replied.
After the hearing, Sunday said he understands why Kelley needed to set bail, since defendants should be given credit for prison time served.
"I thought the $10 million would keep him in jail," Sunday said. "We'll see what happens."
Holt thinks he knows what will happen — nothing.
"I don't see any way he can make that (bail) ... unless somebody hits the lottery," he said.
The background: Hess, who co-owns Keystone Restorations & Builders Inc., is accused of paying a confidential informant $1,900 to kill York County resident Christopher Ward, who is involved with Hess' wife, Laurie Hess.
He was charged with solicitation to commit homicide and initially denied bail. Kelley later set bail in the case for $10 million, believed to be the highest bail amount ever set in York County.
Hess' family and friends raised a non-refundable $100,000 to pay local bail bondsman James Fabie; in exchange, Fabie posted bond for Hess, who sat in prison from April 18 to May 30.
The judge revoked bail when Hess was re-arrested for the second case. Hess was charged with another count of solicitation to commit homicide and was denied bail; he returned to prison on June 11.
Second case: In the second case, police allege Hess offered a fellow York County Prison inmate $15,000 to kill an informant who testified against him at a preliminary hearing in the first case.
The informant had testified Hess hired him to kill Ward. His name has so far not been made public.
Hess' son, Toby Allen Hess, 18, is charged with conspiracy to intimidate a witness for allegedly taking a photography of the informant during the May 9 preliminary hearing. Toby Hess remains free on bail.
Gregory Hess, 46, of 1950 Hoff Road in North Codorus Township, maintains his innocence in the second case, according to Suzanne Smith, his defense attorney on those charges.
Regarding the first case, Holt has said Hess may have had an agreement with someone regarding his wife's lover, "but it was not to kill (anyone)."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.