Defense lawyers get a lot of grief for a lot of reasons: they thrive on technicalities, they charge high fees, they advocate for the obviously guilty. They don’t get much credit for working the system pro bono to free the innocent. On June 12 the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association did just that, honoring two longtime lawyers, Mike Ware and Keith Hampton, with the Percy Foreman Lawyer of the Year award at the twenty-seventh annual Rusty Duncan Advanced Criminal Law Course in San Antonio.
As we’ve noted before, it’s rare for criminal charges to be filed when a police officer shoots a civilian. In Austin, when Detective Charles Kleinert was indicted for the shooting of Larry Jackson Jr. last month, it was the first such indictment out of 25 potential incidents; in Houston, Harris County grand juries have indicted only one officer since 2004; in Dallas, a pair of indictments this spring broke a forty-year drought for criminal charges against police officers who’ve shot civilians.
Every case is different, and not every incident requires criminal indictments against officers—but by all evidence, it seems the odds of a trial happening when a police officer shoots a person they suspect of committing a crime are not good.
Convictions, meanwhile, are even more rare. As the Austin American-Statesman reported earlier this year:
The dismantling of a prison unit in suburban Houston in 2011. (AP/Pat Sullivan)
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.
The murder trial of Brelyn Sorrells—a 21-year-old Austin man and former Bowie High School football star who was involved in a stabbing at a San Marcos Super Bowl party in 2013—had been underway for four days before the evidence that would go on to clear him in the eyes of the jury was seen by his attorney. A whole fifteen months after the prosecution received it.
The video, which was recorded the night that Sorrells stabbed Arthur Martinez with a three-and-a-half-inch knife, was captured by the DJ at the party, who had been filming in the hopes of using the party footage in a music video. The footage clearly demonstrates that Sorrells was surrounded by armed men who began attacking him when he pulled out the knife (which he used as a boxcutter in his job at UPS). According to the Austin American-Statesman:
Last week, an Alpine smoke shop called the Purple Zone was raided by the DEA as part of a national effort to curb sales of synthetic drugs, like “spice” and “bath salts.” The search warrant was issued, and “Purple Zone owners Ilana Lipson [sic], and her mother, Rosa Lipsen, are currently under state indictment for multiple first-degree felony manufacture, deliver, or possession of a controlled substance following four previous raids beginning in November 2012,” according to the Big Bend Sentinel.
But the story is not so cut and dry. Two different accounts of what happened during the raid have emerged, and it’s causing a bit of a stir in the community. It was Illana’s sister Arielle who showed up as the agents were forcibly entering the smoke shop. Illana told the Big Bend Sentinel:
All states that carry out executions do so primarily via lethal injection. In Texas, as in most other states, it’s the only legal method by which to execute prisoners. But as lethal injection drugs get more difficult to obtain, the question of whether to switch to other execution methods is going to be a conversation we have, both in Texas and elsewhere. And that conversation might have been jumpstarted by a state representative from Utah, who proposed a bill last week that would bring back an old-school execution method that doesn’t require European-manufactured drugs: The firing squad.
Twenty-year-old Sir Young pled guilty to the 2011 rape of a 14-year-old girl, but a lot of what happened in his case was strange: especially his sentence. In April, State District Judge Jeanine Howard opted to put Young on probation, ordering him to perform 250 hours of community service at a rape crisis center and to spend 45 days in jail, but exempted him from some of the probation conditions that sex offenders typically face.
I’ve argued in this space in the past that I’d prefer to see both jail as a sentence and sex offender registration utilized cautiously, but it also seems as though caution should be used when ordering a convicted rapist to spend 250 hours in a facility intended to make rape survivors feel safe. But it became clear after Howard spoke to the media that her idea of who the real victim was in the incident between Young and the young teenager he was convicted of raping wasn’t necessarily the girl. As the Dallas Morning News reports:
The story of Larry Jackson, Jr., a black Austin resident who was shot and killed by APD Detective Charles Kleinert last summer, moved one step closer to resolution this week: After a full investigation, a grand jury issued an indictment for Kleinert on the charge of manslaughter.
This is notable news in a city that has seen dozens of investigations of APD shootings in recent years, but has not seen an indictment of an officer since the 2003 shooting death of Jessie Lee Owens led to a charge of negligent homicide (and, later, a dismissal) for APD officer Scott Glasgow.
Texas’ criminal justice system hasn’t had the best PR week. First, the potential human rights violations caused by the overheated Texas prisons made international news—as reported on by the University of Texas Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, after lawsuits filed in the past year alleged the same. Then, a lawsuit was filed against the Hidalgo County sheriff’s department alleging that jail staff canceled the prescription of a prisoner suffering from high blood pressure, who the suit claims died of hypertension shortly after. An editorial that ran Wednesday night in the Dallas Morning News went on to highlight the bizarre case of Jerry Hartfield, who has been incarcerated since 1977 despite the fact that his conviction was overturned 33 years ago—and who was denied a petition for release last week. Add to that last week’s news about the eighteen months that the young man who peed on the Alamo is going to spend in a broken State Jail system, and you have a week that could be going better.