Appeals Court Overturns "Stand Your Ground" Case Because Jury Instructions Were Too Confusing

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Robert Nelson via Flickr creative commons

By most accounts, Raul Rodriguez was looking for a fight the night of May 2, 2010.

Pete Fornols, who lived next door to the retired firefighter, testified in court how Rodriguez called him numerous times that evening, seething about a loud party down the block in their rural northeast Harris County neighborhood. Rodriguez eventually stopped by Fornols' house, "rambling on about the noise" coming from Kelly Danaher's place, Fornols testified.

Rodriguez seemed aggressive, the neighbor said. "His eyes were bulgy, and he was in a -- almost like a frantic state, like, you know, he was just about to pop."


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Federal Court Finds Baytown's Funky Smell Isn't Exxon's Fault

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The illustrious sign of the company in question.

Environmentalists took a swing at oil giant ExxonMobil's Baytown complex way back in February. On Wednesday they found out it was a miss when a federal district court ruled that ExxonMobil's numerous violations of the Clean Air Act couldn't be conclusively linked to the health problems of people living around the company's Baytown refinery.

Specifically, U.S. District Judge David Hittner accepted Exxon's claims that about 10 million pounds of air pollution (comprised, of course, of carcinogens, other toxic pollutants, and respiratory irritants) released in violation of clean air laws could not be conclusively linked to any unpleasant effects in the surrounding communities, according to a statement from Environment Texas and the Sierra Club.

Hittner also accepted Exxon's argument it should not be held responsible for failing to prevent the more than 4,000 separate equipment malfunctions and other events -- an average of more than one a day for eight years -- that each resulted in the release of illegal pollutants from the Baytown Complex from October 2005 through 2010.


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"Matriarch" of Large-Scale Sex-Trafficking Ring Set for Trial Early Next Year

Categories: Courts, Crime

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Google streetview
The girls were kept in a locked room above the cantina, the door dead-bolted from the outside. The second-floor prison had a bathroom, so the girls would hardly ever need to be let out. Sometimes, they were locked up all day, every day -- once, this stretched on for a month.

The door would only open whenever a "special client" arrived at Las Palmas II, a Telephone Road cantina with a facade brightly painted with a tranquil ocean scene and palm trees. Bar owner Hortencia Medeles-Arguello, also known as La Tencha, or her daughter Delia Diaz would show the customers around the room, explaining which girls had been working at the brothel the longest and which ones were "fresh meat," as if the men were picking cattle.

For the big spenders -- men willing to spend $350 to $500 for an hour with the girls, some as young as 14 years old -- La Tencha had hardly any rules. Anything goes, she told clients -- oral sex, anal sex, slapping and hitting. Just don't strike the girls in the face, she told them. It could depreciate their value.

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Court Ruling Could Change How Teens Are Certified As Adults in Criminal Cases

Categories: Courts

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Brian Turner via Flickr creative commons
In late 2008, Harris County prosecutors sought to convince a judge to transfer 16-year-old Cameron Moon's murder case from juvenile to adult court. At Moon's certification hearing, prosecutor's called only one witness: the Deer Park police detective who investigated the shooting death of Christopher Seabrook during a drug deal gone awry.

Moon's attorney, however, called several witnesses. Family, friends, and acquaintances testified to the teenager's troubled upbringing and fractured family life. One worker within the juvenile justice system called Moon "one of the best kids [to] come through as far as his intelligence and obedience and the way he carries himself in the facility."

Forensic psychiatrist Seth Silverman called Moon a "dependent, easily influenced" kid who "would probably benefit from placement in an environment specifically designed for adolescent offenders." The adult criminal justice system afforded few options for teens like Moon, Silverman testified, saying adult prison could very well be even more destructive for the Deer Park teenager. Silverman told the court that Moon had already responded to therapy during his short stint at the juvenile detention center.

Unmoved, the judge transferred the case to the adult criminal justice system (adult jail, court and prison) citing Moon's prior run-in with the juvenile justice system -- the teenager had previously been caught keying another student's car. The judge then wrote a boilerplate order that, in parts, simply recited the state statute for certifying juveniles for trial as adults in criminal cases.


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Supremes Are Looking at Texas Confederate License Plates

Categories: Courts, Texas

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The Sons of Confederate Veterans argue that having the Confederate flag on their vanity plates is a freedom of speech.

You'd think that the concept of Confederate license plates would go over wonderfully in Texas, but surprisingly that's not exactly the case. When the Sons of Confederate Veterans state branch (think mostly guys who like to dress up in gray wool and who really love all things Confederate) applied for a specialty license plate, the state decidedly didn't go for it. This led to some legal wrangling and now the issue has bounced all the way to the home of the Nine itself.

Yep, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., looking at whether Texas had the right to reject a specialty license plate application from the state chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

This all started about five years ago when the Sons of Confederate Veterans applied for a specialty license plate showing the Confederate flag along with the name of the group and the year it was established, 1896. After several votes, the board for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, which handles the state license plate stuff, denied the application, saying that some people would interpret the Confederate symbol in negative and offensive ways (i.e. they might just conflate the Stars and Bars with slavery, the Old South, racism and the KKK, for starters.)

A district court agreed with the board but the case got kicked up to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel of three judges issued their ruling in July. In a 2-1 ruling, the Fifth Circuit sided with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, finding that the state was wrong not to approve the license plate. "By rejecting the plate because it was offensive, the board discriminated against Texas SCV's view that the Confederate flag is a symbol of sacrifice, independence and Southern heritage," the majority said.


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Inmate With History of Carrying Shanks Uses One to Stab Harris County Jailer

Categories: Courts, Crime

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Screenshot of Channel 13 Video


One shank, two shanks, three shanks, four?

An inmate with a propensity for carrying homemade stabbing devices, or "shanks," for you novices, has now been accused of stabbing a Harris County jailer with...well...a shank.

According to authorities, 33-year-old Weylin Alford, who is currently serving a sentence for burglary with attempt to assault, stabbed a detention officer at the Harris County Jail on Monday after officers attempted to complete a sanitation check of the inmate's cell.

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UPDATED Trial Begins in "Satanic" Killing of 15-Year-Old Girl

Categories: Courts

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Photo illustration by Monica Fuentes
Cervantes was found with an upside-down cross carved into her chest
Update: Jose Reyes was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison, the Chron reports. The jury only took a little more than an hour to return the verdict, according to the Chron. Prosecutors used Reyes' jailhouse letters in closing arguments, quoting a passage about how Satan "was standing there" watching Reyes and another teen torture and kill 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes. "It's all good. It's what the devil asked for," Reyes wrote.

Hisel Reyes cried on the witness stand as she reluctantly testified that her brother told her how he and a friend tortured and killed 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes in a vacant Clear Lake apartment last February.

Jose Reyes, 18, has been charged with capital murder in the crime, although he is not facing the death penalty because he was 17 when the crime was committed. He and 16-year-old Victor Alas are charged in the sensational crime, which made headlines in part because Cervantes was found with an upside-down cross carved into her chest, and a similar cross was painted on a wall in her blood.


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Tony Buzbee, Rick Perry's Top Lawyer, Is Suing Some California "Film Producers" After Investing $1.5 Million in a Failed Dance Movie

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After he was booked on two felony counts in August, Gov. Perry took Buzbee (far right) and the rest of his legal team out for ice cream
Tony Buzbee is probably the wrong guy to target if you're a con-artist looking for a mark.

Buzbee has built for himself a larger-than-life persona in the course of his many years as a top-gun Texas trial attorney. He's fought BP, represented families suing the late Texas philanthropist/accused pedophile Stanley Marsh, and, most recently, was tapped to lead the defense team for Rick Perry as he fights two felony counts in the twilight of his governorship.

The Texas Tribune has characterized Buzbee as "a big, mean, ambitious, tenacious, fire-breathing Texas trial lawyer. Really big. Poster boy big." But even big, mean fire-breathing Texas trial lawyers need to invest their money somewhere.

So when a couple of "film producers" from California approached Buzbee this summer about funding a movie production, he bit. Because an unknown film company making a movie called "In the Light of the Dance," supposedly starring Ryan Gosling or Justin Timberlake, doesn't sound fishy at all, right?


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UPDATED Group Holds Grand Jury Registration Drive in Third Ward

Categories: Courts

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Camilo Smith
A few hundred people came to a Third Ward town hall meeting to talk about justice and grand juries.

It was a largely black crowd with at least a third of the audience made up of white people and a few anarchists sprinkled in. They were there to share ideas, sign some petitions, and to vent about injustice in the Mike Brown and Eric Garner deaths.

Inside the packed El Dorado Ballroom in the Third Ward, the shirt on a lonely hipster said it best: Murder Beats Not People.

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HPD Officer Who Kicked Teen in the Face During Arrest Denied Appeal

Categories: Courts, Crime

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One of the HPD officers caught on tape brutally beating a teenager during a 2010 arrest failed to convince a state appeals court that the video footage wasn't enough to support a conviction.

The appeal was filed by Drew Ryser, one of the four Houston Police Department officers indicted on misdemeanor charges of official oppression in the March 2010 beating of 15-year-old Chad Holley, a robbery suspect.

Of the four officers, two pleaded no contest to the charge, while another was acquitted. Ryser, on the other hand, attempted to fight the charge and was eventually found guilty.

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