The innocuous white office building at the intersection of Fitzhugh and the Central Expressway in Dallas is an unlikely site for a battleground. Speeding between Ken’s Mufflers and the headquarters for Young Life, most drivers miss it entirely on most days. Saturdays, however, are different. Picketers line the sidewalk, proselytizing (“Finding God is like a great sale at the Gap”) and handing out pamphlets (Children—Things We Throw Away?).
The most infamous phone call in recent Texas history came on the afternoon of September 25, 2007, when, at 4:45, Ed Marty, the general counsel of the Court of Criminal Appeals, dialed Sharon Keller, the court’s presiding judge. Both were in Austin; he was at the courthouse and she had gone home earlier to meet a repairman. One hundred and forty miles away, at the Walls Unit, in Huntsville, Michael Richard (pronounced “Ree-shard”) sat in a cell adjacent to the execution chamber.
IT WAS, BY ALL ACCOUNTS, the high court’s low point. A teenage girl named Deanna Ogg had been raped, bludgeoned, and stabbed to death on a late September afternoon in 1986 near the tiny town of New Caney, north of Houston.
There was a man—call him Max, the name he went by at work, or Pancho, as he was known to his family and friends, or Francisco Garcia-Rodriguez, the name recorded on his birth certificate, or Sealed Defendant 3, the title under which he would eventually be indicted by a grand jury in Texarkana.
As Ernest Willis tells it, he woke up in a house on fire. It was around four in the morning in Iraan, an oil-field town in West Texas, on June 11, 1986. He had fallen asleep on the living room couch fully clothed except for his eel-skin boots, which lay beside him on the floor. It was the smoke that awakened him, and he ran to the rear bedroom to get the woman who had passed out there a few hours earlier, but the flames and smoke pushed him back.
I grew up in a house two blocks from the Gulf of Mexico, in Galveston. Before I could drive, I would walk to the beach, what there was of it. Decades of wave action against the granite rocks at the base of the seawall had carried off much of the sand, leaving a narrow longshore strip that was washed continuously by the tides. I liked to walk out a few feet into the water, where the incoming waves exhausted themselves against the gradient of the shore, and wriggle my feet into the wet sand.
One afternoon last summer, I pulled into the parking lot of R.C. Loflin Middle School, in Joshua, a town south of Fort Worth, where thirty or so people had gathered.
A little over halfway through the new play Enron, the character based on Jeff Skilling declares, “I hate government because I know these guys … and let me tell you, the weakest, most ignorant, most drunken f—ing incompetents went to work for the U.S. government. Because they weren’t smart enough for the private sector.” The government hacks who make the rules for the energy market are not deserving of his respect.
Before the local district attorney dubbed him “the biggest con man in the history of Nueces County,” Mauricio Celis led the life of a high-powered plaintiff’s lawyer. At the time of his arrest, in November 2007, at the age of 36, he owned a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley, and a BMW; he traveled by private jet; and he owned a stake in the Havana Club, the go-to spot for Corpus Christi’s bank, oil, and gas executives.