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Posts under ‘Crime and Punishment’

The Rick Perry grand jury convenes

Game on. A grand jury was sworn in Monday to look into whether Gov. Rick Perry acted improperly last year when he threatened to kill funding for the Travis County district attorney’s public corruption division unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned after her drunken driving conviction. The office of the governor – who carried through […]

Perry lawyers up

It’s getting real. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has hired a high-profile Austin defense lawyer to represent him in an investigation into whether he illegally withheld money from the Travis County District Attorney’s office. KVUE News and the Austin American-Statesman confirmed Sunday evening the hiring of David L. Botsford. The hiring comes as a special Travis […]

HPD’s good, bad, and ugly

The good news is that the testing of backlogged rape kits has led to the identification of a serial rapist in Houston. Houston police on Tuesday for the first time identified a criminal suspect – a possible serial rapist – from testing of sexual assault kits that once gathered dust in the police property room. […]

Perry special prosecutor is “concerned”

As are we all. A special prosecutor investigating whether Gov. Rick Perry abused his authority when he eliminated state funding of the Texas public integrity unit — which investigates government corruption and is housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office — said what he’s found so far is “concerning.” “I cannot elaborate on what […]

Perry says Texas will not comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act

Amazing the number of laws Rick Perry refuses to obey, isn’t it? More than a decade after the Prison Rape Elimination Act unanimously passed Congress, federal standards for implementation of the law have been finalized. Now, Gov. Rick Perry and some prison reform advocates are at odds over what those standards mean for Texas lockups […]

CCA to review dismissal of DeLay conviction

The criminal justice system isn’t done with Tom DeLay just yet. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday agreed to review whether a lower court correctly decided last fall to toss out the prison sentence handed to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on money-laundering charges. The state’s highest court on criminal matters announced […]

How much will science advance in the courts?

It’s up to the CCA to decide. Texas’ highest criminal court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case that could affect how evolving scientific evidence is used in courtrooms across the state. For Neal H. Robbins, the high court’s decision will determine whether he gets another shot at arguing his innocence. In 1999, a jury […]

HPD crime lab update

The man who wrote the report detailing all of the HPD crime lab’s problems was back to give a progress report on how things look now. Houston police managers at the once-shuttered crime lab have failed to re-examine tests on DNA, blood and most other forensic evidence on a random basis to ensure the results […]

Inmates and Medicaid

Other states are doing what Texas has declined to do. Being arrested in Chicago for, say, drug possession or assault gets you sent to the Cook County Jail to be fingerprinted, photographed and X-rayed. You’ll also get help applying for health insurance. At least six states and counties from Maryland to Oregon’s Multnomah are getting […]

State Bar investigating Charles Sebesta

Good. The State Bar of Texas has opened an investigation into Charles Sebesta, the former Burleson County District Attorney who prosecuted death row exoneree Anthony Graves. The organization that oversees lawyers is investigating alleged professional misconduct by Sebesta, which, if proven, could result in his disbarment. The investigation was prompted by a complaint that Graves […]

More evidence of Cameron Willingham’s innocence

The scientific evidence against Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three children, has long been discredited. The other piece of evidence used against him at trial was the testimony of a jailhouse informer, who said that Willingham confessed to him. Now that piece of evidence is under […]

DA investigating Judge Pratt again

Here we go again. Two months after a grand jury cleared embattled state District Judge Denise Pratt of accusations she had tampered with court records, the Harris County District Attorney’s office again is looking into the family court jurist. Houston lawyer Anna Stool, a former federal prosecutor, said she was called in by the district […]

More details on the rape kit backlog results

HPD reports to Council about the progress of testing done on the backlogged rape kits. No false arrests by Houston police have been uncovered during an ongoing $4.4 million testing of thousands of old rape kits, but new suspects have been developed with DNA, leading to an undisclosed number of arrests, police commanders told City […]

Complaint #3 against Judge Pratt

Greg Enos does not give up, y’all. With just days before early voting begins in the GOP primary, Webster family lawyer Greg Enos has filed a third criminal complaint against embattled family court Judge Denise Pratt with the Harris County District Attorney’s office. The complaint, which details one of the 631 cases Pratt dismissed on […]

Not just DNA

There are a lot of other exonerations that happen around the country, for crimes major and minor, that don’t involve DNA. In September 2006, [Corey] Love was charged by Houston police with possession of between one and four grams of cocaine, a felony. He was 20 years old and indigent. He had two choices when […]

We still need to reduce inmate headcount

The Harris County jail’s population is down from historic highs, but with the usual summer uptick coming, Sheriff Adrian Garcia has asked for a waiver to make some more beds available. State officials have rejected a request from Sheriff Adrian Garcia to increase the capacity of the Harris County Jail and said local leaders have […]

Followup on that report about sexual assault in the Harris County jail

Last month, I blogged about a report by the Justice Department that alleged a high rate of sexual assault in one of the Harris County jail buildings. Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who testified about the report in Congress to a panel of citizen correctional experts, was sharply critical of the study’s methodology. Click the link for […]

Too old for death

Fascinating story about Texas’ oldest inmate on death row. He’s been there for 36 years. Two weeks after he turned 40, Jack Harry Smith showed no signs of letting middle age slow him down. So on the first Saturday in January, he put on a ski mask, grabbed his pistol and a buddy, and went […]

Perry and pot

Haul out your blind squirrels and acorns cliches. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday that he favors decriminalizing marijuana use and lessening punishment for minor offenders as the nation moves toward a more moderate approach to pot use and two states have legalized the drug. Perry’s comments surprised some, since the governor has repeatedly criticized […]

Clearing the rape kit backlog is producing results

Very promising results. Private forensic laboratories hired to clear the Houston Police Department’s untested DNA evidence – including a decades-old rape kit backlog – have identified potential offenders in a third of the cases where sufficient DNA samples were found, according to a HPD report. [...] Since the HPD lab resumed operations about six years […]

Abercia gets probation

Good riddance. Former Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Jack Abercia was sentenced Wednesday to three years probation for conducting illegal criminal background checks to raise money, in part, for an elevator in his home. Abercia pleaded guilty in August to 11 counts of misusing his authorized computer access. Federal prosecutors said Abercia and a top […]

Charles Sebesta needs to be held accountable

Amen to this. Former Texas death row inmate Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years behind bars before he was exonerated in the bloody 1992 slaying of a Somerville grandmother, her daughter and four grandchildren, is seeking justice against the man who put him there. In 2006, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ […]

On pot and prosecutions

I’m sure you’ve heard about President Obama’s remarks that marijuana isn’t really more harmful than alcohol. There’s plenty of evidence to back that assertion, but Harris County DA Devon Anderson strongly disagreed with him anyway. President Barack Obama’s recently published remarks calling marijuana less dangerous than alcohol has prompted Harris County’s District Attorney to release […]

Dan Patrick is lying about immigration and crime

That’s what the headline to Peggy Fikac’s column should be, but she took the easy way out. At a forum where statewide candidates strutted their stuff for leading business groups, Sen. Dan Patrick could have focused on pretty much any angle when he talked about immigration. There is the reality that people working here without […]

Funding after school programs

This should be a no-brainer. To combat youth crime, a former Houston police chief says the city must first solve another problem: unstable and inadequate funding for after-school programs. City Councilman C.O. Bradford said it is more urgent than ever to make after-school programs a public-safety priority as federal grants continue to dwindle or expire, […]

Another complaint filed against Judge Pratt

Pretty much needed to be one. Embattled family court Judge Denise Pratt is the subject of another criminal complaint by Webster family lawyer Greg Enos, accusing her of breaking the law by signing orders saying she had given prior notice to lawyers before dismissing hundreds of cases last month. Judges are required under rules of […]

If you want to be treated for mental illness, go to jail

You’ve heard it said that the Harris County Jail is the largest mental health facility in Texas. Here’s a great story in the Observer by Emily DePrang that illustrates what that really means. Of the 9,000 or so inmates here, more than a quarter take medication for mental illness, meaning that many days, this jail […]

Sexual assault in the Harris County jail

This sounds very bad, but there are some questions about how the numbers were determined. Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, defending his staff against a federal study that found startling levels of sexual abuse at one of his jails, testified Wednesday that his sprawling corrections system was constantly working to better protect inmates. Garcia was […]

Murder by numbers 2013

The beginning of the new year means a look back at the homicide count for the previous year. Homicides are up in unincorporated Harris County, where the Sheriff’s Office is reporting a nearly 20 percent uptick in 2013, preliminary year-end statistics show. Killings in 2013 totaled 91 as of Tuesday – the second-highest tally in […]

Police cameras

It’s disappointing that Houston lags behind other cities in using dashboard cameras in police cars, but I am glad to see we are trying to catch up. Houston police have fewer dashboard cameras than any major Texas law enforcement agency, providing them with little of the recorded evidence that other departments have to determine whether […]

The new justice complex

It’s a big deal. Houston leaders are in the early stages of planning a new police headquarters and courthouse complex that Mayor Annise Parker said could be the most important project on which she will work during her six-year tenure. There is little question the city’s criminal justice facilities are fading. Houston’s central jail at […]

More security cameras coming

You’re being recorded, like it or not. Houston is adding 180 downtown surveillance cameras despite shrinking national security grants and research showing that video feeds only sometimes improve public safety. By early next year, the Houston Police Department will have nearly 1,000 camera feeds available. Most record public areas around downtown, stadiums and event spaces […]

Judge Pratt gets no-billed

From the inbox: Harris County Grand Jury “No Bills” Judge Denise Pratt “We are pleased that the grand jury agrees with us that there’s absolutely no evidence that Judge Pratt tampered with court documents or did anything illegal,” says her attorney, Terry W. Yates. “The office of the District Clerk was created by the Texas […]

County jail diversion program moving forward

News like this is always welcome. Harris County is moving forward with a much-anticipated jail diversion program aimed at reducing the soaring number – and the associated cost – of mentally ill residents who repeatedly cycle through the county lockup. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett this week announced his pick to head the four-year pilot […]