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Roar of the Crowd

Readers respond to the April 2014 issue.

By May 2014Comments

If you failed to notice the April 1 date stamp, a texasmonthly.com story on Matthew McConaughey’s write-in bid for Texas ag commissioner seemed like quite the scoop. (Among the recent Oscar winner’s campaign talking points? That Texans “deserve a government that lets them just keep livin’ .”) The Washington Times fell for it (in an online story that was eventually deleted), while MySA.com ran a post headlined “McConaughey Run Likely April Fools’ Joke.” Facebook commenter Sara Spector cracked: “And Kinky Friedman is going to star in the next season of True Detective.” Even David Dewhurst’s former communications director Travis Considine weighed in, with a classic response: “It’d be a lot cooler if he did” (run, that is). Many readers observed that McConaughey seemed no less viable a public servant than some of the state’s current options, which was, y’know, kind of the point. 

And now a sampling of feedback from our readers.

Murder, He Wrote

First off, I want to commend Michael Hall on a superb story (“The Murders at the Lake”). His thought-provoking article reminds me that our justice system is far from perfect and illuminates the need to rethink the death penalty. Murder is a serious wrong worthy of harsh punishment. However, if taking a life is wrong, what makes the state exempt from this universal moral truth? I believe that the purpose of the system of justice in this country is maintaining peace. We remove those individuals who cannot live peacefully within civil society and place them in segregated, monitored areas (prisons). Such individuals are stripped of most liberties. This should be punishment enough, without having to resort to terminating human life in the name of justice.

I find it hard to believe that a man can be convicted on nothing but circumstantial evidence. If jurors are going to decide that a life is worth taking, shouldn’t that evidence be based on unquestionable guilt? The theory that one has to prove “conclusive” innocence is mind-boggling. Conclusive innocence aside, if any doubt remains, shouldn’t such a belief indicate that death is not warranted? In my view, if only one person has been wrongfully put to death, then such a system is massively flawed and worthy of reexamination. All systems are imperfect and contain some margin of error, and if the consequences of that margin of error are a matter of life and death, then maybe it’s time to rethink those institutions.
Joshua Sims, Austin

As a Baylor University student during the time of the Lake Waco murders, I had a unique view of this story as the part-time secretary to Richard McCall, defense attorney for Muneer Deeb. Our law office was filled with boxes and boxes of paperwork related to the case, including gruesome photographs of the crime scene and victims. McCall’s “regular” caseload was farmed off to other attorneys as he devoted entire months to Deeb’s defense. Part of my $5-an-hour job was typing and filing pleadings and running errands to the courthouse and jail. I even picked up a suit at Men’s Wearhouse and delivered it to Deeb in the McLennan County jail for his court appearance. I attended voir dire and drove witnesses in my Cutlass Supreme every day for two weeks from the Methodist Children’s Home to Cleburne, where Deeb’s trial was held on a change of venue.

At the time, I was thoroughly convinced of Deeb’s innocence (as well as the other defendants’). In my mind, Jill, Raylene, and Kenneth were not the only victims in this horrendous crime. During the trial, the jailbird testimony was laughable even to me, a wide-eyed girl from Arkansas. Rumors flew. Sentences were allegedly lessened or dismissed for testimony. Other evidence was ignored and pushed aside while Vic Feazell commanded the courtroom like a Baptist preacher.

Not surprisingly, Deeb went to death row. Waco had its conviction, a solved crime. Feazell strutted around like a peacock. For a time his face plastered the cover of the Waco Yellow Pages.

Thirty years later I have distance. Time. Maturity. Thirty years later I am more convinced than ever that innocent people went to prison.

Excellent article.
Talya Tate Boerner, Dallas

I moved to Lorena in 2001 and had heard of the murders but had no real information. I had always supported the death penalty, especially after John Couey raped and buried alive in a trash sack nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Florida. But after reading this article, which I felt was well researched and detailed, I cannot say I believe it is right anymore. I cried when I read of David Spence’s execution by the state. I feel he was innocent of the murders. The reason that I cannot support the death penalty anymore is due to overzealous prosecutors and arrogant law enforcement personnel who do shoddy, misleading, unethical, and law-breaking investigations. 

Heaven help the person who lands in jail and makes a stupid remark, as that person could find himself being charged with a crime and convicted. Thank you, Michael Hall, for your courage and the depth of your work.
Roberta McLaughlin, Lorena

The article on the Lake Waco murders was gripping, captivating, and all-engrossing.
C. W. T. Hagelman III, via email 

No one does long-form crime reporting quite like texas monthly. This story is so moving and engaging. A must read.
@JonathanlKrohn, via twitter 

What investment in immersive reporting can produce. Read “The Murders at the Lake” by @mikehalltexas in
Texas Monthly
@DavidGrann, via twitter

That was a tour de force. Crazy-good and worth the annual subscription by itself. Keep plantin’ the seeds.
Stevie T., Austin

While engrossed in Michael Hall’s retelling of the story of the 1982 Lake Waco murders, I was disappointed at the short shrift given both by Hall and by Jake Silverstein [in his Editor’s Letter] to the masterful book Careless Whispers, by Carlton Stowers. That book is unforgettable to this day, and while Hall dedicated himself more to the aftermath of Stowers’ story, texas monthly did a disservice to new readers in not directing them to the brilliant, award-winning book by one of Texas’s best writers.
Don McGuire, Lewisville

Burn Notice

Nice hit piece [“Fire Fight”]. The city [Houston] ran the two pensions it had control of into the ground, so let’s give them access to the only one that survived. Brilliant idea. [Annise] Parker wants access to the money, nothing more. Once the city has control, the firefighter pension will tank far faster, and the citizens will be left bailing it out.
Chucky Arla, via texasmonthly.com

Quality Czech

When will TM understand where the supreme kolache is baked [Vittles]? Haven’t you read your own Stephen Harrigan’s near trip around the world seeking the best kolaches? WEST’S VILLAGE BAKERY! The first Czech bakery in Texas! Off I-35, head east on Oak/FM2114. Cross the railroad tracks and the bakery is one block down on the left. 
Margie Mashek Davis, via texasmonthly.com

Split Personalities

Erica Grieder’s article “Bio Hazard” was balanced and thoughtful. How refreshing and surprising! Please don’t run her off! 
John Hoopingarner, Lakeway

I just received the latest issue of Texas Monthly. In it was an article that was slanted to support Wendy Davis, written by Erica Grieder. This magazine is a total waste of time lately. It is so politically slanted that I can no longer stand to have it delivered to my house. 
Ann Alexander, Dallas

A Room With a Pew

I’m sure you’re hearing plenty of feedback on Tom Bartlett’s March 2014 article, “Evolution of the Specious,” from the familiar evolution/creation camps. But here’s a different critique: I think Bartlett misrepresents charter schools in his closing paragraphs. He describes a charter school that uses textbooks that include “classic creationist rhetoric” and then adds, “This shouldn’t be a huge surprise considering that charter schools often have strong religious ties and, in some cases, are even housed in churches.” Actually, it isn’t that typical for charter schools to have strong religious ties—a Dallas Morning News article from 2010 reports that more than 20 percent of Texas charters have a religious affiliation. Bartlett is correct that charters are sometimes housed in churches, but in many cases this has nothing to do with philosophical alignment and everything
to do with where the school can get low-cost space. Charter schools must fund their own facilities, unlike district schools, and so inexpensive space is critical. This is often found in churches or in shopping centers
Megan Aghazadian, Austin 

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