Old News: An Illustrated Look at Curious Headlines From a Bygone Era

“New towns are springing up so rapidly in Texas that even the people of the State seem at a loss to keep track of them. Hence a stranger, traveling by rail, asking a Texas fellow-passenger the name of places being passed, will find from the response that a generic term has been adopted, viz: ‘Damfino.’  ” — Letter to the Editor, Texas Siftings, December 17, 1881

Dim and Dimmer

When Glenn Beck moved his media operation to Dallas in 2012, Texas solidified its reputation as America’s one-stop shop for fevered conspiracy theories. Our state’s passion for believing that small groups of rich, powerful men rule the world (a belief often held by other rich, powerful men) reached a high-water mark in the days leading up to November 22, 1963, when paranoid rantings about communism, the United Nations, and the Catholic Church poisoned the air of Dallas.

Exit, Stage Center

Of all the issues that the Legislature tackled last year, few were as unlikely as pension reform. When it comes to entitlements, the people who benefit from the status quo are usually suspicious of change, and the pols who are supposed to keep our finances sound are usually too concerned with the here and now to worry about how much money the government is going to have to hand out years down the line.

The Big Squeeze

Here in margarita land, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Texan who hasn’t heard about the Great Lime Panic of 2014, when the price of the humble fruit reached stratospheric heights due to a shortage in Mexico (which supplies a mere 98 percent of our country’s supply) and we were left dry and not the least bit high. Realizing for the first time how much we take those tart green orbs for granted, we had to ask ourselves some tough questions: What will put the zip in our guacamole and the tang in our tacos?

Canning the Ban

In the summer of 2011, New Braunfels, the watery old town between Austin and San Antonio, was undergoing an invasion. Sweaty refugees, turned away from rivers elsewhere in Texas whose waters had been diminished by the worst one-year drought in history, found solace in the town’s spring-fed Comal River. They came in great numbers, and they came to tube.

Richard LaFuente Is Finally Free!

It’s become a familiar scene, especially in Texas: an innocent man walks out of prison, where he’s met by an exuberant crowd of family, lawyers, and journalists. The members of his family hug him, cry, and laugh with relief. His lawyers stand before the gathered press and raise serious questions about how the state could have made such a terrible mistake to lock up an innocent man.

High-Heel Homicide

One morning in June of last year, Houston defense attorney Jack Carroll arrived preoccupied at Harris County’s 338th District Criminal Court. He had never appeared before the court’s presiding judge, Brock Thomas, and he needed to ask for a continuance. As he waited for his client to be brought in, he ignored the disheveled woman in jail orange waving frantically at him, trying to get his attention.

The woman was Ana Lilia Trujillo, who was on her way to becoming the most notorious accused murderer Houston had produced in years. She’d been arrested for killing her boyfriend, Alf Stefan Andersson, less than 24 hours earlier, and already it was nationwide news.

If she had stabbed Andersson with a steak knife, it would have been unremarkable, a commonplace if terrible act of domestic violence. But instead she had stabbed him with her five-and-a-half-inch stiletto heel. The legal sharks of Houston’s criminal defense corps, who like nothing better than the kind of attention the case was receiving, sent emissaries to tout their skills to Trujillo.

She already knew who she wanted, though. In the nineties Trujillo had frequented the same downtown bars that Jack frequented, back before downtown Houston was trendy, back when bars in the area were for serious drinkers. Jack in those years was a heavy drinker who came to know many prospective clients in the process, and he represented them well enough to earn street cred as a tough defense lawyer, which is how Trujillo remembered him. Two weeks after her arrest, the Stiletto Heel Murder was still reverberating on cable news, and Jack’s mother, in Miami, learned about it that way. She called her son to see whether he knew any juicy details. That same day he took the case.
 
I should mention here that Jack Carroll is my brother-in-law. His twin sister, the actress Lisa Hart Carroll, has been my wife for 25 years, so I’ve known Jack since the eighties, before he became a lawyer. He was an oil and gas headhunter when I met him, poaching geologists and oil traders from and for prominent companies, and was very successful. He drove a Jaguar and golfed for large bets with Major League Baseball Hall of Famers, several of whom showed up for his wedding in 2005, by which time he’d put heavy drinking behind him.
 
The headhunting job helped pay for law school and prepared him for the career he really wanted. After graduating from South Texas College of Law, in 1990, he took on court-appointed indigent clients, mostly drug offenders and drunk drivers, while also practicing corporate law to help pay the bills. Jack discovered he was adept in the courtroom. He was tall and lanky and good-looking, he could think on his feet, and juries liked him. Because he wasn’t afraid of going to trial, he soon found himself taking tougher cases, defending accused drug dealers and the occasional accused murderer. He once defended a man charged with killing a policeman, in a courtroom filled with officers in uniform, and managed to get the case dismissed.
 
He made a nice living, but Jack still called himself “a ham-and-egg lawyer.” His wife worked as a registered nurse. His office was a walk-up above a bail bondsman, near the criminal courts building. He’d never had a big, splashy case, the kind that propels trial lawyers into high-rise office suites, until Trujillo asked him to defend her. She had no money to pay his fees, but TV producers soon began calling and offering to buy the rights to her story, all promising prime-time attention.
 
As the trial drew near and reporters kept circling, Jack would ask me whether he should trust them. I could tell he was excited by the fuss but also resentful of the pressure that came with it, the mounting concern that this one trial might define his career. He spent more and more time, unpaid time, preparing for it—studying the case file, interviewing potential witnesses, pondering the killing. He became convinced, truly convinced, that Ana Trujillo was innocent.  

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