Hilton Pool Electrocution Death Case Reaches Settlement

Categories: Courts

Photo contributed by family of Raul Hernandez
Raul Hernandez, 27, died in August after being electrocuted in the Westchase Hilton pool.
A part of the lawsuit over a Houston man's electrocution death at the Westchase Hilton last August has been settled.

The family of Raul Hernandez is still struggling to cope in the wake of his death last August. Hernandez, 27, jumped into a pool to rescue his younger brother and mother who were both being electrocuted after the pool light snapped on. His mother, Maria Isabel Duran, and his youngest brother, David Duran, then 11, survived, but Hernandez never regained consciousness. He died days later.

Duran filed a lawsuit for wrongful death in October against Hilton Worldwide Inc., Interstate Hotels and Resorts LLC, WS Westchase LLC, Interstate Westchase LP, Westchase Tenant LLC, Interstate Management Co. LLC, and Brown Electric Inc. The family recently settled with Brown Electric, the company responsible for recent electric work on the pool, lawyer Stephen Loftin said.

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Court of Criminal Appeals Hears Homicide "Junk Science" Case

Categories: Courts

Courtesy Brian Wice
Wice says it's simple: new law, new facts, new trial.
We don't know how 17-month-old Tristen Rivet died. Neither does the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy.

The problem is, that medical examiner once thought she knew how Rivet died.

Patricia Moore believed the toddler was murdered. And Moore testified to that effect in a Montgomery County court in 1999, when Neal Hampton Robbins was accused of that murder. Jurors also heard medical experts for the defense say that there was no way to determine if it was a homicide. But in the battle of expert witnesses, prosecutors prevailed. Robbins was sentenced to life in prison.

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Appeals Court Will Hear First Arguments Under New "Junk Science" Law Wednesday

Categories: Courts

A lot of eyes are on the Robbins case.
The state Court of Criminal Appeals will hear arguments Wednesday in the curious case of Neal Hampton Robbins, convicted in Montgomery County in 1999 of killing his girlfriend's 17-month old daughter, and sentenced to life in prison. It's the first time the CCA will hear arguments under a 2013 statute addressing convictions alleged to have been won using bad science.

What may have been a routine murder conviction took a turn in 2007, when the medical examiner who originally ruled Tristen Rivet's death a homicide, and who provided strong testimony for the state, reviewed the autopsy and decided that there was not enough evidence to conclude the child was murdered. The death certificate was amended to "undetermined." Of course, the fact that homicide was off the table had no immediate bearing on Robbins, who remained in prison.

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County Attorney Puts Another Gang Injunction on the Books

Categories: Courts

Harris County Attorney's Office
Up to a year in jail and $4,000 fine for any Blood or Crip who steps into this safety zone.
The idea behind a gang injunction is to limit a gang's ability to gather, cause trouble or plan any future troublemaking. At least that's what's behind the Harris County attorney's push for a preliminary injunction ordered last week to create the "East Aldine Safety Zone."

Under the order by Judge Alexandra Smoots-Hogan of the 164th Civil District Court, nearly 40 people can't step foot into a .34-square-mile zone that wraps around an apartment complex on Aeropark Drive and includes a pair of schools, stores and restaurants. The reason: All of these people are allegedly Bloods or Crips.

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Receivership Extended as Sharpstown Condos Start to Shed Gang Complex

Categories: Courts

Overcoming gang crime at Sharpstown property.
A realtor who cut his teeth cleaning up and rebuilding faded developments on his home turf in the Third Ward last week was granted a two-year extension by the state to oversee a formerly gang-plagued condo complex in Sharpstown.

Known as the Le Promenade Townhomes, now changed to The Gardens at Bissonnet, the complex had been troubled for years by poor fiscal management, gang activity and violence, particularly from the La Primera Gang, according to court documents. The gang's identity was even linked to the condos' address at 7400 Bissonnet.

Read: Texas Alleges Gang-Ridden Southwest Houston Condo Complex Is a Public Nuisance

The Houston Chronicle described the situation in 2012:

Officials say the complex has been able to fall through the cracks because they are individually owned condominiums, and thus not governed by the city's 2006 multi-family ordinance. Yet one man owns 75 percent - 154 units - in effect, operating as its de facto owner.

Guo Ping Li, 60, began purchasing units through his company, Huali Investment Inc., in 1998. Li, who is in China, could not be reached. In 2009, he was given deferred adjudication for discharging petroleum hydrocarbon into a storm drain outside the complex.

Homeowners faced up to $10,000 in civil penalties in a nuisance abatement lawsuit filed against them, but the county was able to come to a temporary agreement soon afterwards.

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Judge Denise Pratt in Runoff -- But What of Her Peculiar "Gag Order"?

Categories: Courts

YouTube screenshot
Looking back at Judge Denise Pratt's gag order of 2013.
Now that incumbent Harris County Family Court Judge Denise Pratt is in a runoff, we thought it would be a good time for another look at Pratt's bizarre gag order of January 2013.

It appears to be a blanket order barring any party or attorney with such a pending case from talking to the media, or even discussing the case via "Twitter, Facebook, personal blogs, YouTube, Flickr, email or other social media." Anyone violating the order could be found in contempt of court, and wind up jailed and/or fined. We have never seen anything like it.

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Model Says Dudes Tricked Her Into Letting Them Post Nekkid Photos

Categories: Courts

We just want the naked truth!
An aspiring Houston model is seeking a court order against two men she says misled her into signing a document that gives them the right to post her nude photos on a site called -- get this -- Verticalsmiles.com.

In an application for a permanent injunction filed in Harris County District Court, 20-year-old Morgan Miller says that Edward Sharkey, 40, and Abriam (also spelled "Abreum") Garcia, 35, claimed to be part of a "top modeling company" known for "making girls famous," and had her sign a document she was told was simply for age verification. Unfortunately, the document authorized the dudes to slap her naked pics on their totally classy site. She wants the court to bar them from posting the photos.

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Guy Who Hid Body in a Trunk Won't Get a New Trial

Categories: Courts

Photo by Tobyotter
Deodorizers can cover a lot of smelly sins, but not decomposing murder victims.

Steven Weinstein, the guy who killed a man, hid his body in a trunk and proceeded to try and hide the smell of rotting flesh for months with air fresheners, won't be getting a new trial, the Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled.

Jerry Glaspie, 28, disappeared on January 29, 2007, and his decomposing body was found in the trunk of a car on March 24, 2007. His body was discovered with the hands and feet handcuffed, mouth covered with tape, after residents complained of the smell.
Prosecutors said Glaspie was strangled after a $14,000 drug deal went bad (they were supposed to exchange $14,000 cash for drugs but Weinstein showed up with a cashier's check and Glaspie kept the money and never coughed up the meth.) In 2008 Weinstein was convicted of the killing and sentenced to 30 years in prison for the crime.

Weinstein's appeal was denied, but his current lawyer, Randy Schaffer, filed a writ of habeas corpus claiming that Weinstein wasn't properly represented, that information was withheld and that there was false testimony from a witness.

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Truthiness and Free Speech: Supreme Court Takes Up Important First Amendment Case

Weighing in on Truthiness

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) recently agreed to hear a case that has important implications for political discourse in campaigns. Indeed, this case has a little bit of everything: abortion rights, free speech, campaign finance and PACs.

Here's what happened: an anti-abortion PAC, Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), wanted to put up billboards in incumbent Democratic congressman Steve Driehaus's district stating: "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortions." Driehaus claimed this was a false statement (on which more below) and reported the statements to the Ohio Elections Commission. Along the way, Driehaus threatened the company who owned the billboards with legal action, so the "taxpayer-funded abortions" signs never went up.

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Two Shining Examples of Human Race Charged With Throwing Cat in the Air, Shooting It

Categories: Courts, Crime

We don't even know what to say.
Two east Harris County men have been charged with animal cruelty after authorities say they threw a cat in the air and shot it January 18.

Alexander Marsh, 18, threw the injured cat into the air while Joseph David Morgan, 24, shot it with a shotgun, according to a Harris County Sheriff's Deputy's affidavit. Both men are from Highlands. (Correction: Morgan is from Highlands, Marsh is from League City).

Well, now.

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