The State of Texas: December 1, 2014
Have a good Thanksgiving? Think your family’s festivities got a little out of control? It’s nothing compared the Amarillo big rig driver who, on that special day, had a real, live turkey smash through his windshield. Per standard Texas hospitality protocol, the driver offered the recently deceased bird to a family, which apparently cooked it up for dinner.
Blackest Friday — The holiday season started with a terrifying jolt when Larry Steven McQuilliams went on a shooting rampage in downtown Austin early Friday morning. Thankfully, no one but the shooter was killed or injured. As numerous outlets reported, McQuilliams “fired more than 100 rounds at downtown buildings in Austin and tried to set the Mexican Consulate ablaze early Friday before he died during a confrontation with police.” KVUE has a straight-forward timeline of the action, which took place just before 2:30 a.m. and ended in less than an hour. Killed by SWAT team members, McQuilliams motives are still fairly vague apart from him apparently being “anti-government” (whatever that means). He had, according to some outlets, written “Let me Die” across his chest and “Police and FBI agents also reportedly found a funeral outfit laid out on his bed after searching the suspect’s home.” So far, the Austin American-Statesman, has the most comprehensive profile of the clearly disturbed man, reporting that some friends and neighbors were surprised to learn about the man’s rampage while others weren’t. Despite the ongoing investigation and the scary nature of the situation, all three shooting locations — the Federal Courthouse, the Mexican Consulate, and the Austin Police Department Headquarters — reopen today.
Innocent But Not — The legal fight continues for former daycare owners Dan and Fran Keller. In 1992, the couple was convicted of conducting depraved Satanic rituals on children in their care, a crime they always maintained they never committed. They served 21 years in prison and were “denied parole three times” before they “won early release last year when the criminal case against them collapsed.” But for the Kellers are now fighting for exoneration of the crime. “They want the courts to declare them innocent of crimes that had stunned and repulsed Austin,” writes the Austin American-Statesman. “Travis County prosecutors, however, oppose a finding of innocence,” since the mountain of evidence doesn’t include “concrete proof of innocence.” For those wanting a reminder of just how insane the case is, be sure to read the 1994 piece from Texas Monthly‘s own Gary Cartwright, as well as the piece last year from Michael Hall.
New Year, Same Politics — Get ready for a new political season, which will apparently look a lot like the last political season. The “six-month, biennial session of the Legislature that starts January 13 is likely to be much more moderate than the results from November 4 might lead one to expect, the dean of El Paso’s delegation and a top Texas political scientist said last week,” writes the El Paso Times. A big reason seems to be the nearly assured election of Joe Straus, “an institutional moderate,” as Speaker of the House. Sure, not the greatest collection of evidence that newly elected Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick won’t be as hog-wild as he’s been on campaign trail, his radio show, and the House floor. Still, there will be plenty to fight about. “Stakeholders on all sides of the looming [budget debate] say the question of which tax cuts to give — considered inevitable in the staunchly conservative Legislature — and what, if anything, to spend more on will be the biggest fight of the session, with some predicting it will spill over into a special session as lawmakers grapple with how to do some amount of both,” writes the Statesman in a nice preview of the budget headache we can all expect in the near future. So nothing as exciting as abortion, gay marriage, and/or guns in every classroom yet. But hey, it’s early still.
Frack-Ban Frenzy — It appears Denton’s a trendsetter. Rocked by earthquakes, the city passed a fracking ban that goes into effect Tuesday It’s largely symbolic since the state has made it clear local control doesn’t reside locally and such fracking permits will continue to be given. Still, the effort appears to have picked up steam. Now Reno, Texas, has joined the cause. The city has taken “the first step toward what [Mayor Lyndamyrth] Stokes believes will be an outright ban by passing a law in April limiting disposal well activity to operators who can prove the injections won’t cause earthquakes,” according to the Associated Press. While the article doesn’t cite too many cities joining the fray—Alpine has “taken note” and some residents “are calling for Alpine’s city commission to ban fracking—even though the closest drilling is more than 100 miles away”—it does point to a possible showdown between state agencies and towns as both quakes and fracking continue unabated. At the very least, the conflict makes for a good battle. “In Texas, the fight pits municipalities against the Texas Railroad Commission, which governs the oil and gas industry, and the equally powerful General Land Office, which uses revenue from mineral rights to fund public education.”
Trial Time — Today begins the capital murder trial of Eric Lyle Williams, a former Kaufman County justice of the peace, accused of the vicious killings of three people, including two district attorneys. As the Dallas Morning News notes, “The case against Eric Williams is unusual for many reasons: the status and profile of the victims, the stealthy way the killings were carried out, the massive amount of evidence and the fact that prosecutors believe they can show jurors a clear-cut motive for the slayings.” Williams wife has also been charged with murder, although her trial is pending. The slayings occurred almost two years ago and garnered national attention for their rather extreme nature. “At the time, theories among law enforcement about who might have carried out the killings focused on a white supremacist prison group and Mexican drug cartels. Prosecutors across the country expressed concern for their own safety,” according to the New York Times. Although innocent until proven guilty, prosecutors appear to have stack of evidence and witnesses that seem to make the outcome of this two-year nightmare almost inevitable.