Crime & Justice

Courts, trials and crime coverage for Austin and the Central Texas region.

Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Texas exonerated more prisoners – 13 – than any other state last year.

A report out today shows a nationwide push by prosecutors to re-examine possible wrongful convictions contributed to a record number of exonerations in 2013. The National Registry of Exonerations says 87 people were exonerated last year.

The Texas Tribune has more:

Thirteen Texans were officially absolved of wrongdoing last year for crimes ranging from murder to drug possession. Some had spent more than a decade in prison, and others a few months. The state with the second-most exonerations was Illinois, with nine, followed by New York, with eight. 

Julian Aguilar/Texas Tribune

Travis County sheriff’s deputies on Monday saw firsthand what immigration-reform activists hope will be a series of civil disobedience protests across Texas.

As part of a publicity campaign, a group of six activists blocked the exit gate at the Travis County Jail; they were arrested and will likely be charged with criminal trespass. The protesters hope the actions will prompt county officials to reconsider a controversial finger-printing initiative opponents say deports non-violent undocumented immigrants.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Austin police are investigating an officer-involved shooting that occurred at 1:42 p.m. Saturday near Interstate 35 and Rundberg Lane.

According to Police Chief Art Acevedo, there were no injuries and the suspect is in custody.

The shooting occurred when a police officer responded to a car accident at a Shell gas station. The suspect, whose name has not yet been released, had struck another vehicle and was allegedly leaving the scene. When the officer tried to flag the suspect down, he did not stop and drove the vehicle toward the officer. The officer, whose name has also not yet been released, got out of the way. When the suspect stopped again, the officer told him to get out of the car, but he again drove the car toward the officer. That's when the officer fired several rounds at the car.

Wednesday's execution of a Mexican national in Texas revived a long-running diplomatic row between the United States and its southern neighbor.

Updated at 10:50 p.m. ET: Execution Carried Out

The Associated Press reports:

"A Mexican man has been executed in Texas for killing a Houston police officer, despite pleas and diplomatic pressure from the Mexican government and the U.S. State Department to halt the punishment.

Texas Department of Public Safety

The Ellis County Sheriff's Department has discontinued this Amber Alert.

Law enforcement authorities across Texas are looking for a missing 16-year-old girl. Inez Ramirez was last seen in Red Oaks, Texas – south of Dallas.

Ramirez is 5'2" and weighs about 130 pounds. She has brown shoulder-length hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a green shirt and black shorts.

Police believe she may be with 23-year-old Edger Barron. He’s 5'9", weighs about 145 pounds and has black hair and brown eyes.

flickr.com/duluoz_cats

This is an article from our Austin City Hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor (formerly In Fact Daily).

A two-way video conferencing system that has all but replaced in-person visits by friends and family members with those incarcerated at the Travis County Jail is coming under fire  as being too expensive, too impersonal and possibly even dangerous to an inmate’s health. Critics are also concerned about the possibility that attorney-client conversations are being illegally recorded and provided to prosecutors.

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Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

The Texas Civil Rights Project is calling on local authorities to investigate a string of suspicious housing deals that could cause seniors to lose their homes.

A company called Castro has been approaching Montopolis residents to see if they qualify for free home repairs paid for by the government. According to homeowners, the solicitors urged them to sign contracts granting Castro full legal rights over their homes.

Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Brian McGiverin says the Travis County District Attorney and the Texas Attorney General must investigate immediately.

(This post was updated at 6:30 p.m. ET)

A panel looking into U.S. electronic surveillance activities in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations has recommended removing the NSA's authority to collect and store Americans' telephone data.

The key recommendation was one of dozens that the panel put forward; however, it did not propose a wholesale scaling back of domestic spying by the National Security Agency and other intelligence branches.

A federal judge in Washington says the National Security Agency's program for bulk phone record collection violates Americans' reasonable expectation of privacy.

The ruling (pdf), however, has been stayed pending a likely appeal.

Judge Richard Leon says the sweeping NSA collection of U.S. phone metadata constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

A new poll released this week shows Texans strongly support reforming how the state punishes non-violent drug offenses. The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice polled over 1,000 people about how Texas currently punishes non-violent drug offenders with prison time vs. drug rehab and probation.  

A Travis County grand jury has indicted Jerald Cobbs, a former executive with the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), in connection with an $11 million grant the agency approved without putting it through required reviews.

The charge of securing execution of a document by deception carries a potential jail sentence of five to 99 years or life, and a fine of up to $10,000.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update: Dan Keller walked out of the Travis County Jail this afternoon after 21 years in prison. He was greeted with an embrace from his wife Fran, released from her own imprisonment last week.

As the two left the jail, Dan Keller denied any bitterness over his two­-plus decades in prison. 

“I forgave everybody,” Keller said. “It’s no use to hate somebody … man ain’t supposed to do that. Lord didn’t hate anybody when they put him on the cross. He said ‘I forgive you,’ and I forgave them. It’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”

Original story (Nov. 27): A Central Texas woman is now free after spending more than 20 years behind bars.

Fran Keller and her husband Dan were both sentenced to 48 years for so-called “satanic ritual abuse” at their Austin-area day care.

Joy Diaz/KUT News

If you live in Austin, chances are you or someone you know has been the victim of a property crime. 

That’s because Austin is one of the worst cities nationwide when it comes to property crime.

FBI numbers show Austin’s property crime rates are worse than New York, Chicago or even Los Angeles. Property crimes are so prevalent that a couple of years ago, the Austin Police Department created its very first Burglary Unit.

Every month almost 4,000 property crimes happen in Austin.

Two same-sex couples from Texas are waiting for a decision on a temporary injunction filed in federal court against the Texas laws that ban same-sex marriage. The case in Texas is just one part of seven cases in other states with the goal of having the U.S. Supreme Court resolve the issue.

The National Center for Reason and Justice is reporting that Francis Keller will be released from prison in Texas. Keller has spent the last 20 years behind bars for a crime that many say never even happened.

Debbie Nathan of the National Center for Reason and Justice told Texas Public Radio that the release could happen as soon at today.

Adam Loewy

Some Cedar Creek High School students walked out of class today in protest of the tasing of a fellow student on Wednesday. That student, 17-year-old Noe Nino de Rivera, has been in a coma ever since the incident.

Officials and Rivera’s family members are far apart in their descriptions of the incident.

Bastrop County Sheriff’s Deputies Randy McMillan and Timothy Stalcup, who work as school resource officers for the Bastrop school district, were called Wednesday morning to a fight between two female students.

flickr.com/grahamsblog

Let's say you're angry with your boss.  You go online and vent in an anonymous post. It's therapeutic, sure. But now your boss wants to sue for defamation.  

In Texas, courts haven't settled on guidelines for online defamation. But a little-discussed case before the Texas Supreme Court could help determine if the state can force companies like Google to identify anonymous bloggers.

Michael Landsberry, the 45-year-old middle school math teacher and Afghan War veteran who was killed Monday trying to talk down a student shooter at a Nevada middle school, is being remembered as a hero.

Witnesses at Sparks Middle School in the city of Sparks, near Reno, described how Landsberry approached the armed 13-year-old boy and tried to get him to surrender a semi-automatic pistol he had used to shoot two fellow students. The boy then turned the weapon on Landsberry, fatally shooting him, before using the pistol to take his own life.

In what would be the largest such settlement in U.S. history, JPMorgan Chase & Co. has reportedly reached a tentative deal with the Justice Department that would see the bank pay $13 billion to settle civil charges related to wrongdoing by some of its units just before and during the housing crisis.

The deal, sources tell news outlets including NPR, would not absolve JPMorgan from possible criminal liability.

Word of the tentative agreement emerged around 3 p.m. ET. Saturday. We posted when the news broke and followed with background and more details.

Two people are recovering from gunshot wounds after related incidents in North Austin Friday afternoon.

Police say one person was struck by gunfire and then the person who fired that shot was hit by a shot fired by an Austin Police Officer.

It happened in the area of the 10300 block of Quail Ridge Drive, which is near Cook Elementary.

The school was briefly locked down as authorities assesed the situation. 

Joy Diaz, KUT News

In big cities nationwide, female police officers make up about 18 percent of the force. Those numbers may seem low, but they are similar to female enrollment figures in the military.

Austin’s numbers are even lower. Less than ten percent of Austin Police Department officers in Austin are women. APD wants to change that.

Antonia Singletary is a veteran cop with almost thirty years in the force. She is tiny, just 5’2” and around 100 pounds. She looks even smaller standing next to one of the motorcycles she used to use on patrol.

Austin Police Department

An Austin Police officer was involved in a fatal crash this morning on U.S. Highway 290 near Sawyer Ranch Road.

In a written statement, APD identified the officer as Lieutenant Clay Crabb, a veteran officer who began his tenure with the Austin Police Department in 1998 after four years with the San Angelo Police Department. Crabb, 42, was on his way to work when a truck struck the driver's side of his vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the other vehicle was not seriously injured.

Crabb was awarded 16 commendations in his service including the Superior Service Citation and the Master Peace Officer Ribbon.

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue of affirmative action again Tuesday, but this time the question is not whether race may be considered as a factor in college admissions. Instead, this case tests whether voters can ban affirmative action programs through a referendum.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

The owner of a compounding pharmacy outside Houston says he was told it was "unlikely" that his business would be revealed as the source of the state's lethal injection drug, pentobarbital.

Now that his Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy is known to be manufacturer of the drug intended for use in this week's scheduled execution and beyond, Jasper Lovoi has sent a letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), demanding the drug's return.

Lovoi's letter says he finds himself "in the middle of a firestorm" that he "was not advised of and did not bargain for." The identities of Lovoi and his pharmacy were originally revealed by the Associated Press, which obtained the information through an Open Records Request for its story on the new source of pentobarbital.

flickr.com/brendangates

The man behind Silk Road – a site on the hidden “deep web” where users can buy drugs – has been arrested. And he appears to have Austin ties.

The FBI arrested Ross William Ulbricht this morning, accusing him of multiple offenses in connection with running Silk Road.

Erika Aguilar for KUT News

The Texas criminal justice system is not doing everything it can to ensure the death penalty is applied fairly.

That's according to a report released today by the American Bar Association’s Texas Capital Punishment Assessment Team, which claims Texas fails to meet national standards in all phases of implementing capital punishment.

KUT News

According to a survey from Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, less than 10 percent of Austinites are ready for an emergency or natural disaster. 

“People just don’t think anything’s going to happen here,” explains spokesperson Candice Wade Cooper.  “Even though Austin may not be prone to sudden emergencies like earthquakes or tsunamis, there are all kinds of things that can catch you off guard – flooding, fires, burglary. It’s important to be prepared.”

Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old man believed responsible for Monday's shooting rampage that killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, was a former full-time Navy reservist who had obtained a concealed-carry permit in Texas and was arrested three years ago for illegally discharging a weapon.

(We're constantly updating the top of this post and adding to it below as well.)

The nation's capital went on high alert Monday after a shooting attack at the city's U.S. Navy Yard left at least 12 victims and one gunman dead and injured 8 others.

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