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 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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DuPont's Bad Safety Setup and Equipment Failure Led to Deaths

Categories: Spaced City

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On Thursday, the Chemical Safety Board's top official testified before a U.S. Senate joint committee that the DuPont accident that killed four men at the La Porte plant in November was caused by equipment failure.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso explained in written testimony submitted to a joint committee -- the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions -- what we know so far about what happened that day at DuPont. And what the Chemical Safety Board has found out about the setup at DuPont is by no means encouraging:

"On November 15, 2014, there was a release of methyl mercaptan, a highly toxic and volatile liquid, which DuPont itself has estimated at 23,000 pounds - a very significant quantity. Odors of the chemical were reportedly discernible many miles from the plant. Four workers - including operators and would-be rescuers - perished inside the methomyl-production building where the release originated."

There was at least some explanation for the West, Texas, explosion in 2013 -- the company was a small one, not necessarily falling under the gaze of frequent regulators, not necessarily aware of all the rules or best practices for handling volatile chemicals and thus one that could more easily slip through the regulatory system, Moure-Eraso noted. But the same cannot be said for DuPont, he stated. DuPont is one of the largest chemical companies in the world and it has a much-vaunted, highly burnished safety record in the industry. However, even at a company that carries itself as one of the safest in the world, things can go wrong.


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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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24 Reasons We're Thankful We Live in Houston (Hint: It Ain't Dallas)

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Katie Haugland via Flickr Creative Commons

Just kidding! We're also thankful for Dallas, which might share a high-speed rail with us one of these days, so we should probably play nice.

Here are the actual reasons we're thankful we live in Houston, presented without an ounce of snark, of course.

24. The Lady Bird Johnson wildlife beautification people plant bluebonnets and all that business along the roadsides so when we sit in traffic for hours on end, we have something nice to look at.

23. J.J. Watt, what with his pizza-schleppin' badassery and all.

22. Conversation at local parties can always be livened up -- so long as the battle over what to do with the Astrodome still rages.

21. We brought the world Anna Nicole Smith (#RIP).

20. We don't have alligators in the bayous ... because the polluted water killed them all. And oh, yeah, now the water is coming after us.

19. IN THIS ECONOMY...we are still nailing that job opportunity thing.

18. Virtually no winters = virtually no snow. But when it does (sort of) snow, we are so excited that the whole city shuts down.

17. The humid climate keeps us all looking much younger than our Texas counterparts.

16. The pollutants in Stinkadena smell horrible, giving us all fair warning when we're about to drive through what is probably a haze of carcinogens.

15. Given the above item no. 10 on our list, it's nice to know that we have MD Anderson Cancer Center so close...

14. Food lovers across the nation are jealous of our restaurant scene.

13. There's a Whataburger (properly pronounced as "Whut-a-burger") every five miles.

12. This ain't a hipster haven a la Austin.

11. No zoning means an...uh...interesting array of buildings sit alongside one another wherever you go.

10. We get to claim rights to not only a ridiculous local rap scene, but artists like Beyonce, Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Willie D. Damn it feels good to be a gangster.

9. On that note, you (as in the rest of the nation) can all thank us for Screwed Up Records & Tapes. You're welcome.

8. The local art scene is enviable, isn't full of those dreaded sellouts, and they put on an Art Car Parade in the middle of summer that's impressive enough to make people want to suffer in the Houston heat.

7. Houston has nicknames with actual street cred, like Screwston and H-Town.

6. Our city is the smart kind of fancy, with big brains leading research at places like NASA, the Medical Center, and the Baker Institute at Rice University.

5. The traffic. Without it, we'd never have the time we need to listen to all the podcasts we've synched to our phones. We've learned so much about history being stuck in traffic on the way to and from work that sometimes we feel like we're enrolled in a mobile community college class. So thanks, fellow Houston drivers, for keeping the lanes slow and our minds active.

4. Bars like Alice's Tall Texan and West Alabama Ice House are a thing here.

3. Where else can you find the Rockets, the Dynamo, and the Texans? No where, that's where. There's even those good ol' Astros, who we'll secretly always love, even if they're never going to get any better. Ever.

2. It's still relatively cheap to live here.

1. The city is vastly diverse, rapidly evolving, and yet is full of our favorite kind of people: Houstonians.

Houston Nonprofits Get Windfall From Millionaire's Will

Categories: Spaced City

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Big day for Houston non-profits.
A bevvy of local organizations, including the Houston Parks Board and Trees for Houston, will receive $308,000 each, after a state probate judge approved the settlement of businessman James Martin Hill Jr.'s estate.

Hill, who "established a successful home building company," died in 2010, but an agreement over the distribution of $6.9 million left for 19 local and national non-profits was only reached Monday, according to a press release from Houston attorney Richard Mithoff, who represented a majority of the beneficiaries.

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Seven Enforcement Actions, $270,000 in Fines and 51 Violation Notices in Five Years Is "Satisfactory" for TCEQ

Categories: Spaced City

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On Saturday morning, people living near the DuPont chemical plant in La Porte awoke to the rotten-egg smell of methyl mercaptan, the chemical used to scent natural gas so you can sniff out a leak before your house explodes. By day's end, news had surfaced that one plant worker was injured and another four killed during an accidental methyl mercaptan release at the company's 800-acre complex earlier that morning.

What exactly caused the fatal leak that killed Wade Baker, Crystle Rae Wise, and brothers Robert and Gilbert "Gibby" Tisnado will only be revealed in the coming weeks and months as state officials and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board continue to investigate the incident (an eight-person CSB team began its investigation Monday morning). "Our goal in investigating this accident is to determine the root cause and make recommendations to prevent any similar accidents throughout the industry," said CSB managing director Daniel Horowitz in a statement.

As for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, spokesman Terry Clawson assured that "no off-site impacts to public health or to the environment have been identified," and said the agency is still responding to complaints about foul odors in the area. Clawson pointed out that TCEQ's own reports indicate DuPont has had "satisfactory" compliance with environmental regulations in recent years.

That's quite a curve, even considering "satisfactory" is regulator-speak for a middle-of-the-pack C student. "Satisfactory" by TCEQ standards apparently means numerous enforcement actions, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and more than four dozen written violation notices within five years.

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Japanese Investor Claims Houston "Space Law" Expert's Private Space Flight Company Was a Scam

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Excalibur Almaz website

Takafumi "Horiemon" Horie, the Japanese entrepreneur who founded the tech company Livedoor and later spent time in jail for securities fraud, is suing a Houston "space law" attorney, along with a number of related corporations, for allegedly duping him into investing $49 million dollars in a defunct space travel company, using Russian-made Almaz spacecraft as bait.

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Please Stop Packing Your Guns in Your Carry-On at Bush Intercontinental Airport

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Not that we needed any further proof that Texans love guns, but here it is anyway, courtesy of the TSA.

As of last week, the TSA had discovered a record-breaking 1,855 firearms in carry-on bags at airports across the nation, and two of the top five airports for those discoveries were -- surprise-- in Texas, including Bush Intercontinental Airport.

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UPDATED Lyft Threatens to Leave Houston, Because $62 Is Just Way Too Steep to Make Sure Its Drivers Aren't Criminals

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Alfredo Mendez
Your commute's about to get a little less mustache-y.

See below for comments from Chelsea Wilson, Lyft's public policy communications manager.

Citing "expensive" new citywide regulations that mandate drug testing, fingerprinting and background checks for drivers, Lyft, one of the two app-based companies operating in Houston, says it would rather close up shop than comply.

The city's new requirements, set to take effect November 4, will require Houston applicants to use a state fingerprint-based background check company, rather than the online background check system that Lyft currently uses. Drivers must also submit to a warrant check, be drug-tested and give the city their personal information.


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'American Insurgent Movement' Leader Pleads Guilty to Plot to Overthrow Government, Rob Banks and Blow Up Mosques

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Screenshot from the Southern Poverty Law Center
Robert James Talbot Jr.
A Katy man who the FBI says tried to form an "American Insurgent Movement" to rob banks, blow up mosques and overthrow the government with "blood and bullets" has pleaded guilty in federal court.

Court records show Robert Talbot Jr., 38, admitted to plotting his revolution in a hearing before federal district court Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. on Friday. The charges, including attempted interference with commerce by robbery and solicitation to commit a crime of violence, could put him in prison for 20 years.

The FBI opened its investigation into Talbot in August 2013, apparently after finding Talbot's Facebook posts searching for "like-minded" recruits to join his cause. Unbeknownst to him, his three "like-minded" recruits ended up being undercover FBI agents.

What's truly remarkable about the case is the amount of crazy Talbot let spill out into the open, on his Facebook page, for everyone (including federal law enforcement) to see. Here are some of the more stunning posts, culled from court records:


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