Lawrence man, jailed for 5 years, released on bond after supporters raise funds

Rontarus Washington hugging supporter
Posted at 9:52 PM, Jul 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-01 23:37:07-04

LAWRENCE, Kan. — An unsettling depiction of George Floyd discovered in a Lawrence park next to police headquarters drew out crowds of protesters on Saturday. Since then, their presence on Massachusetts Street has drawn attention to the case of a local man behind bars for five years.

On Wednesday night, a celebration ensued in the parking lot of the Douglas County Jail.

Moments that loved ones and supporters of Rontarus Washington Jr. didn't think would come soon enough.

"The fight is not over, but this is a victory," Michelle Sanders, a family friend, said. "We will not stand for injustice. He is innocent."

In 2015, police arrested Washington, who was accused of killing a neighbor. His first murder trial ended in October 2019 with a hung jury.

Over the weekend, protesters on Mass Street seeking racial justice called for the judge to reduce Washington's bond ahead of his second trial.

Earlier Wednesday, the judge agreed to drop it to $500,000 with a 10 percent surety.

"He weighed out the evidence and the fact there wasn’t – there’s been no conviction, and he’s been in custody for so long," Angela Keck, Washington's attorney, told 41 Action News.

Strangers showed support for Washington on GoFundMe, as some individuals in Lawrence put up their homes and businesses as collateral.

"One minute we said we need $20,000, then it was $10,000, then it came all the way down to $600 and boy when we reached at $600, the whole crowd erupted,"'Helen X”, a protest organizer, said.

RELATED: Lawrence protester: 'You can't fight force with force'

The GoFundMe campaign now is closed after raising more than $38,000.

Within the hour of his release, Washington stopped by Mass Street with his family to thanks his supporters in person.

"It brought awareness," Sanders said. "As you know, this has been going on for five years, and I’m just speechless."

Washington’s attorney said they're working on setting up a scheduling hearing, but believes Washington's second trial might happen as early as January.