LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A woman beat a man with a metal pole, skipped a prior court date, and was released from jail without having to post bail as an assessment deemed her a “moderate risk.” Days later, she killed a mother of eight. She could serve four years in prison.
Vanessa Harvey, 49, pleaded guilty earlier this year to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the death of 42-year-old Machina Goodjoint. Harvey beat Goodjoint and a man with a metal object near Owens Avenue and H Street in the Historic Westside on Nov. 8, 2021. The man survived the beating.
Two weeks earlier, on Oct. 22, 2021, Harvey beat her first victim with a metal pole, police said.
A mother’s death
A Las Vegas Metro police officer’s body camera records as he rushes to help Goodjoint who is near a sidewalk with a large head wound.
“I’ve got one down on the ground,” the officer says in the video.
Goodjoint’s injuries are so severe that the officer thinks she was shot in the face. Another officer helps a second victim, the man, nearby.
“I knew my baby didn’t have a chance, period,” Rozlyn Byron, Goodjoint’s aunt, said. Byron helped raise Goodjoint and refers to her as her daughter.
Byron and Goodjoint’s cousin, Chivelli Green, are part of a big family, not just by blood, but through the Westside community.
“She loved her 89106 area,” Byron said about the neighborhood’s ZIP Code. “No matter if I said, ‘Baby do you want to move?’ ‘Nah uh. I don’t want to move from my 89106 area.’”
But a walk in the night in 89106 would later kill her.
“My baby walked around, even though she didn’t have much herself, she walked around, she fed her people on the streets,” Byron said, including the fact that Goodjoint helped Harvey with meals.
Minutes after finding Goodjoint and the second victim on the ground, officers located Harvey with a metal object by her side.
“We’ve got a pole over here and there’s blood on it,” the officer says in the body camera video.
“Are you hurt?” one officer asks Harvey, believing she may be a third victim.
“No, she’s got the pole, dude,” another officer says as he realizes the metal piece is now a murder weapon. Harvey refused to identify herself as officers took her into custody and to the Clark County Detention Center – a place she was booked into just two weeks prior.
The first arrest
Two weeks before Goodjoint’s death, a different police officer’s body camera records him arrest her for beating a man with a pole. Police found the metal object in the backseat of the car where she was living. It was parked right near where Harvey would beat Goodjoint to death two weeks later.
Harvey refused to appear for her probable cause hearing on a charge of battery resulting in substantial bodily harm. A judge set her bail at $5,000, records showed.
Her pretrial risk assessment, a form Nevada courts utilize to guide judges in their bail-setting decision, deemed her a “moderate risk,” according to documents the 8 News Now Investigators obtained.
The paper also shows no failures to appear – times a defendant skips court – over the past two years.
“When she was located, a metal pole with apparent blood was located inside the vehicle with her,” prosecutors wrote in documents filed after Goodjoint’s murder where they upgraded the battery charge to attempted murder. “After Miranda, the defendant told police that [the victim] had entered the vehicle and began hitting her at which time she defended herself with the metal pole, but only remembered hitting [him] on the hands. Detectives did not observe any injuries on the defendant.”
During a court hearing several days later, Las Vegas Justice Court Judge Diana Sullivan released Harvey without having to post bail, citing the factors on the form and Harvey’s statements to police that the attack may have been in self-defense, she said. Sullivan declined an on-camera interview but provided a written statement.
As part of her release agreement, Harvey was required to check in via telephone or in-person once per week, records showed.
Records the 8 News Now Investigators obtained show prosecutors charged Harvey in Las Vegas Municipal Court with battery for beating a 7-year-old child. She missed court in October 2020 and later pleaded no contest.
A municipal court judge later sentenced Harvey to 150 days in city jail, though records show the jail released her after she served two months.
‘There’s no justice in this case’
“There’s plenty of room for these offenders,” retired Las Vegas Metro police assistant sheriff Jim Seebock said. The 8 News Now Investigators interviewed Seebock, a Henderson city councilman, before his retirement from Metro in July.
“It does get frustrating though when something like that occurs because we did our job and now that person is out again,” Seebock said about repeat offenders, citing constraints in Nevada law. “What the community may not be aware of is how common it is for someone to be arrested for a violent crime and then be let out sometimes the next day, sometimes the matter of just a few days.”
Seebock cited a 30-percent vacancy rate at the Clark County Detention Center, adding on average, 50 people in Metro’s jurisdiction who are on house arrest for murder. While no one, including judges, can predict the future, Seebock said officers are ready to rearrest those who reoffend.
After Goodjoint’s death, Harvey’s charges included two charges for attempted murder and one open murder charge.
Aaron Cole, 59, was charged with murder in the death of Dominique Lucas, 30. Both men were riding an RTC bus on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023, when they began to argue. Cole then allegedly stabbed Lucas more than 30 times, prosecutors said.
At the time of the murder, Cole was on parole on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the 8 News Now Investigators first reported shortly after his arrest. In 1994, police arrested Cole on a charge of second-degree murder after he shot a man in a Salvation Army lobby, records said. The charge was reduced to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, records indicated.
On Feb. 16, 10 days before the bus murder, Metro police arrested Cole on a charge of assault with the use of a deadly weapon and two counts of carrying a concealed weapon, records showed. Cole was arrested for allegedly threatening a person on a bus with a knife.
Cole’s pre-trial risk assessment deemed him “low risk” for the Feb. 16 arrest, according to documents the 8 News Now Investigators obtained. On Feb. 22, Las Vegas Justice Court Judge Joseph Sciscento released Cole on his own recognizance, ordering Cole not to have contact with the victim. Cole’s public defender had argued for release on his own recognizance without setting bail, records showed. The court docket indicates prosecutors asked for $3,000 bail.
On Feb. 26, Cole allegedly stabbed Dominique Lucas, 33, over the course of several minutes before the bus stopped.
“What I would hope is in these proceedings that the judges who are ultimately the ones responsible for making sure people are able to stay in custody based on what we put forth are looking at the totality of the circumstances and not just one tool,” Seebock said.
Harvey took a plea deal, putting her in prison for four to 10 years, records showed. She only admitted guilt for what happened to Goodjoint and the second man involved in the Nov. 8 attack, records said. She will be eligible for parole in November 2025.
“There’s no justice in this case,” Goodjoint said.
Harvey seemingly smiled at Goodjoint’s family in court as they pleaded with the judge for justice. It is extremely rare for a judge to reject a plea bargain between a defendant and prosecutors.
“To see the smile she had on her face, the smirk that she had on her face, she was just — she had no remorse at all,” Byron said.
Goodjoint’s family was left to question what justice they received and what the law says about committing crime.
“It’s OK,” Byron said. “Everybody can go out and commit a crime, ‘Let’s commit some crimes. We’re not going to get any time for this. Let’s go do this.’”
“My cousin would still be here with her kids if they kept her in jail or not gave her an [own recognizance release],” Green said.
Statement from Sullivan:
On October 26, 2021 Ms. Harvey was entitled to an individualized pretrial release hearing as required by Valdez-Jimenez v. Eighth Judicial District Court of Nev., 460 P.3d 976 (2020). Because Ms. Harvey was not present at her previous court hearing, there was no individualized pretrial release hearing properly conducted and her release conditions needed to be re-addressed.
I, like other judges, must make release decisions every day based upon the information that we have at the time of the pretrial release hearing. Some of the information I had at the time of Ms. Harvey’s individualized pretrial release hearing included her Nevada Pretrial Risk Assessment, which indicated that she had no previous failures to appear in court; six misdemeanor convictions (details and type unknown); no felony convictions; and one very old gross misdemeanor conviction for attempt drug possession. On Ms. Harvey’s behalf, her lawyer argued that she had a limited criminal history as indicated on the Pretrial Risk Assessment. Her lawyer represented that Ms. Harvey was born in Las Vegas (i.e. sufficient ties to the community), which I confirmed via her temporary custody record. Her lawyer also stated that Ms. Harvey could not afford to post the monetary bail set at the time of her arrest, which I confirmed via her financial affidavit.
Also at Ms. Harvey’s individualized pretrial release hearing, upon my specific inquiry the district attorney was unsure of who the complaining witness/victim actually was, as there were two different individuals set forth in the arrest report. (During the four days between her arrest and her individualized pretrial release hearing, the district attorney had no contact with the complaining witness.) The police report also indicated that Ms. Harvey made statements to law enforcement that her actions were in self-defense in that she had been attacked first by the complaining witness, at which point she battered him back. Both of these factors went to weight of the evidence and likelihood of conviction as known at that time. (See NRS 178.4851/178.4853.)
Ms. Harvey’s lawyer requested, pursuant to the holding in Valdez-Jimenez, that I release the monetary bail condition and place Ms. Harvey on the condition of intense supervision and pretrial check-ins with the Court’s pretrial compliance department. Notably, there was no argument from the district attorney as to how the monetary bail requested would ensure community safety from further criminal activity, if she was able to post that monetary bail and be released.
Based upon the statutory and case law referenced above and the information I had at that time about Ms. Harvey and her case, I granted the defense’s request to release the monetary bail condition and place her on check-ins with our pretrial compliance unit. You said it perfectly in your email that judges have a difficult job and “cannot predict the future.”Las Vegas Justice Court Judge Diana Sullivan
In 2019, the Nevada Supreme Court ordered all lower courts to use the pretrial risk assessment. The 8 News Now Investigators have repeatedly tried since last spring to talk to a Nevada Supreme Court justice about the pretrial risk assessments, but our requests have gone unfulfilled.