Crime & Justice

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

Texas Monthly

In 1982, a grisly triple homicide in Waco shook residents faith in their community. Three teenagers were killed, and local police struggled with the investigation. The murders were just the beginning of a story that spans decades and involves dozens of characters, many of which became obsessed with both the murders and how the case was prosecuted. Now a new story in Texas Monthly by Michael Hall raises troubling questions about how the state handles justice.

"If there's one thing for certain, it's that the Lake Waco murder case does stand on its own," Hall writes in the story, 'Murders at the Lake,' in the April issue of Texas Monthly

Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, one of Mexico's reputed drug lords, has now been killed twice.

Well, perhaps we should say that he's been declared dead for the second time.

The head of "the cultlike, pseudo-Christian La Familia cartel" was supposedly killed back in December 2010 during a two-day shootout with police.

U.S. Border Patrol announced on Friday that it is changing its policy on using deadly force against moving vehicles and people who throw rocks.

The agency's chief, Michael J. Fisher, sent a memorandum to employees in which he said the policy is designed to help agents avoid dangerous situations.

This is an about-face for the agency.

This post was updated at 10:30 a.m. ET on March 6.

Facebook said Wednesday that it will limit minors' access to pages and posts that offer firearms for sale, along with other measures intended to curtail illegal gun trafficking.

"This is something we've been working on for a while," says Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld. "We want to balance the interests of people who come here to express themselves while promoting an environment that is safe and respectful."

Chris Quintero

The controversial arrest of a jogger in Austin's West Campus neighborhood last week has made international news.

Thursday, Amanda Stephen was arrested by Austin police officers for jaywalking and a refusal to identify herself. Her arrest was caught on video. Subsequent remarks by Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo – "In other cities there's cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas" – prompted more online criticism and an apology. The story was picked up by everyone from The Huffington Post to the BBC

One of the world's most powerful drug lords has been captured. Mexico's head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was arrested in an operation that Mexican officials say involved the cooperation of U.S. authorities.

Guzman has been on the run for years and his capture puts an end to one of the longest and most profitable careers in the drug world. That capture began as the sun rose up over the hotel-lined beaches of Mazatlan early Saturday morning.

Chris Quintero

Update: Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo apologized Saturday for comments he made during a press conference about the arrest of a jogger for jaywalking near the UT campus. During that press conference, Acevedo said that "In other cities there's cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas."

In his apology statement Saturday, Acevedo said that "the comparison was a poor analogy, and for this I apologize." You can read the full apology here.

Original Story (Feb. 21, 4:58 p.m.): Austin Police arrested a woman jogging by the UT Campus Thursday morning for not providing identification after being stopped. The incident was caught on video by a UT student, Chris Quintero, who witnessed the woman being taken into custody. 

Nathan Bernier / KUT

The Texas Civil Rights Project says law enforcement officers may be violating the U.S. Constitution when they execute warrants without knocking. The organization released a report Tuesday that says 70% of surveyed jurisdictions do not have written “no-knock” policies and that many other counties and cities may have inadequate policies or do not effectively implement those they have. Jim Harrington, TCRP director, says that is putting citizens and officers at risk.

“It’s dangerous both ways. We have to get away from this idea, well, we just don’t [knock]. You know any time we say it’s a narcotics warrant, we just don’t do it,” Harrington says.

HOUSTON — At the “pregnancy tank” at the Harris County Jail, asking a female inmate “How much longer do you have?” can get a puzzled look in response. She could answer with a due date or an anticipated date of discharge from jail.

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.

This story has been set to unpublished due to the NPR API updating this story earlier and now the NPR API is unavailable. If the NPR API has deleted or changed the access level of this story it will be deleted when the API becomes available. If the API has updated this story, the updated version will be made available when the NRP API becomes reachable again. There is no action required on your part. For more information contact Digital Services Client Support

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. 

Pages