The State of Texas: November 6, 2015
Closing arguments set for the SXSW killer’s trial, Texas to overhaul process for screening law enforcement applicants, and a terminally ill ’Star Wars’ fan gets a final wish.
End of the Line — Although it was expected to last another week and initially had been scheduled for three, both the prosecution and defense concluded their case in the trial of Rashad Owens Thursday with closing arguments set for Friday morning. Owens killed four people when he drove his car into a SXSW crowd in March 2014, and is facing capital murder and four felony murder charges. As the Austin American-Statesman explained, “To prove capital murder, prosecutors will have to convince jurors that Owens intended to harm others that night or knew his actions could be deadly. To prove murder, they have to show he had been fleeing from police when he committed an act clearly dangerous to human life.” It’ll be an all-or-nothing decision for jury as they won’t be allowed to consider a lesser offense, though he has dozens of aggravated assault charges still pending. Owens faces “an automatic sentence of life in prison for the capital murder charge and a punishment of five to 99 years on each of the other four offenses.” During testimony Thursday, an Austin police detective recreated the incident using diagrams and crash scene photos, and he detailed how Owens’ car accelerated after hitting victims and continued on its fatal path. The jury will begin deliberations following Friday’s closing arguments.
Paxton Pushback — In other courtroom news, the prosecutors in Ken Paxton’s case returned fire in response to the Attorney General’s request to have all three felony charges against him dropped. Paxton’s legal team had filed motions related to his security fraud charges that accused a presiding judge of telling his wife about the case, who in turn told her friend, a Collin County commissioner. In a motion filed Thursday, prosecutors didn’t mince words when they dismissed the accusations as nothing more than “grassy knoll-like conspiracy,” according to the Dallas Morning News. It gets better. The motion reads: “Paxton’s motion is a tale of sound and fury calculated to cast himself as a victim, and not a criminal defendant, in the court of public opinion. That Paxton’s motion is not only desperate, but utterly without merit is predictable; that it recklessly and unnecessarily tars both a respected jurist and his spouse without legal or factual basis to do so is unconscionable.” Attempting to keep their cool, Paxton’s lawyers issued a statement saying that “Professionalism and orders of court prevent us from giving an appropriate response.”
Freudian Slip-Up — Texas law enforcement is going through a pretty important revamp to ensure those who serve and protect are, well, mentally fit for the job. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement announced that it’s going to overhaul “its entire system of screening police, jailers and dispatchers to prevent those with apparent mental issues from joining any Texas police force,” according to the Texas Tribune. “The agency is reviewing all of its requirements and procedures surrounding the psychological examination required before someone joins a police agency as a dispatcher, jailer or peace officer.” The change comes after an undercover investigator alleged that Houston psychologist Carole Busick, who was contracted by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to conduct required evaluations of police officers, had provided less-than-stellar evaluations and had not even met with the investigator. As if the idea of giving a free pass to possibly unstable people in authority isn’t frightening enough, “Six months after her files were seized, the commission cannot provide a count of how many officers in Texas used Busick for pre-employment evaluations,” but it was confirmed that the psychologist had performed 1,888 evaluations on the workforce, or nearly half. The whole piece is an interesting glimpse of what police must do to serve and protect, not to mention how haphazard these kind of screenings can be. “The licensing agency is encouraging but not requiring police officers to redo their psychological evaluations if they used Busick as their examiner, saying it’s in their ‘best interest’ to do so.”
A New Hope — Here’s some good news to start the weekend off: A terminally ill Texan had one of his last wishes granted to him by Star Wars director J.J. Abrams. Spring resident Daniel Fleetwood has a rare cancer with tumors covering most of his lungs and is expected to make his peace any day now. Unlike other Star Wars fans (and Fleetwood’s a huge one), he really might not be able to wait until the film premiers in mid-December. After the social media campaign from his family went international, Fleetwood’s cause was taken up by no less than Luke Skywalker, er, actor Mark Hamill, himself. On Wednesday, Abrams called up Fleetwood personally and arranged a special rough cut screening of The Force Awakens. Hush-hush as always about Star Wars projects, “[Disney] did not say where the screening took place,” writes The Guardian.