Crime & Justice

Courts, trials and crime coverage for Austin and the Central Texas region.

An off-duty white police officer in St. Louis shot and killed an 18-year-old black man who police say opened fire during a chase in south St. Louis. The incident sparked renewed protests in a city already rocked by anger over the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in the suburb of Ferguson in August.

St. Louis Public Radio live-blogged the protests here.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT

Most probably couldn't articulate what a justice of the peace exactly does.

Television shows like “Judge Judy” and “The People’s Court” often trivialize the role of justices of the peace and the small claims courts they preside over.

Five small courtrooms of the Travis County justices of the peace handle settlements of $10,000 or less. In the grand scheme of things, the settlements are miniscule, hence the moniker of “small claims," but for some the rulings in these courts have huge implications.

Tyler Pratt/KUT

It’s a big day for supporters of same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to take up the issue this year, which means same-sex marriages can continue in five states that currently ban the practice.

But where does that leave Texas? 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against weighing in on same-sex marriage means it will soon be legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia. 

But, in Texas, the marriages will not be allowed. A federal district judge ruled earlier this year that the Texas constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman relegates same-sex couples to second-class citizenship. But the judge also allowed the ban on same-sex marriages to continue while the case winds through the appeals process.

The Supreme Court's new term will not include any cases that might decide the issue of same-sex marriage in the U.S., a development that comes after many lower and appeals courts have ruled against states' bans on gay marriage. Advocates on both sides of the issue have been calling for the high court to review the issue and make an official ruling.

The court's refusal of all the petitions related to bans on gay marriage means that the appeals courts' decisions allowing gay marriage can now take effect. They had been on hold pending a potential review by the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court opens a new term Monday, but so far the justices are keeping quiet about whether or when they will tackle the gay marriage question. Last week, the justices met behind closed doors to discuss pending cases, but when they released the list of new cases added to the calendar, same-sex marriage was nowhere to be seen.

But that really doesn't mean very much.

The U.S. is seeing "historic" progress in reducing both its crime and its incarceration rates, Attorney General Eric Holder said, with the federal prison population falling by some 4,800 inmates in the past year — "the first decrease we've seen in many ‎decades."

Texas Department of Criminal Justice

A Houston man was executed tonight for murdering two people in 1993. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says the execution drug pentobarbital was administered to Willie Trottie at 6:13 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 6:35 p.m. 

In 1993, Trottie burst into the family home of his ex-girlfriend Barbara Canada and shot her to death. He also killed her brother execution-style and wounded Canada's mother and sister, according to the TDCJ's offender information.  

Flickr user Marco Manna, https://flic.kr/ps/mRKBS

It's being called Celebgate: private photos of some of entertainment's most famous women, ricocheting around the web.

Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst and Lea Michele are among the female entertainers targeted. And the anonymous hacker claims to have private images of dozens more celebrities.

Fernando Alfonso III is a reporter with the Austin-based website The Daily Dot. He tells Texas Standard most photos appear to be gleaned from the performers' cloud storage accounts online. The photos were then posted to what the Dot describes as "the seediest corners of the Web," including the infamous, unmoderated image board called 4chan.

American journalist Peter Theo Curtis was back home in Cambridge, Mass., today, after he was released by a militant group in Syria.

Williamson County

A 19-year-old in Round Rock is no longer facing the possibility of life in prison for allegedly making marijuana brownies and selling them for $25 each. The case involving Jacob Lavoro attracted national attention. An online petition against the punishment has more than a quarter million signatures. 

Williamson County assistant District Attorney Mark Brunner says they decided not to pursue a charge based on the total weight of the brownies to avoid jury "distraction" during a possible trial. 

flickr.com/fabliaux

This story comes to us from our city hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor.

Representatives of Travis County children and parents involved in legal abuse and neglect cases have only 10-minute judicial hearings to present evidence of their safety and living situations, according to county civil court judges. County attorneys for indigent children and parents say their caseloads are to the point that they must hire private attorneys to help represent those involved.

Flickr user Light Brigading, https://flic.kr/ps/CcMsa

Police in Ferguson, Missouri finally released the name of the officer involved in the shooting death of Michael Brown this morning. Brown, an African-American teenager, was reportedly unarmed and with his hands in the air when he was killed August 10. The event has sparked public outrage in the predominately African-American community – outrage that has spread over the country.

The Ferguson Police Department has been criticized for its delay in releasing the officer's name, plus its militarized reaction to protestors including rubber bullets and tear gas. But officer involved shootings aren’t limited to Missouri – the reality is that they can happen anywhere.

When SWAT officers gathered up everyone at a McDonald's restaurant on Wednesday night, they arrested not just locals, but reporters for The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, The Associated Press reports.

Both reporters later were released without being charged.

This post was updated at 6:40 p.m. ET.

In suburban St. Louis, business owners are cleaning up after a prayer vigil turned violent over the weekend. Meanwhile, protests continue over the death of an unarmed teenager who was shot by police on Saturday.

Reporter Rachel Lippmann of St. Louis Public Radio says about 60 people gathered outside of the Ferguson, Mo., police department Monday. They're calling for police to identify the officer involved and to charge him with murder. Others want the police force diversified in the majority-African-American city.

Austin Toddler Abducted

Aug 8, 2014
APD

Final update on this story (Saturday 10:00 a.m.): The Austin Police Department and  the Texas Department of Public Safety say this Amber Alert has been canceled. They say two-year-old Cheyenne Johnson is now safe and the suspect, Jesse Thomas, is in custody after a standoff with authorities in northwest Harris County.

UPDATE (10:00 p.m.):  An Amber Alert has now been issued for Cheyenne Johnson. Anyone who may have information about this abduction is asked to call the Austin Police Department at (512) 297-0825 or 9-1-1.

Austin police are asking for help from the public in locating a child who was last seen at 1:54 Friday afternoon on the 1800 block of Anita Drive in South Austin.

Two-year-old Cheyenne Johnson is about two-and-a-half feet tall, weighs 25 pounds and has brown hair and brown eyes.  She was wearing a navy blue shirt with flowers on it and navy blue shorts. She was last seen with 33-year-old Jesse Thomas, 6'01", about 220 pounds. 

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

By the end of July, there had been twelve SWAT operations so far this year in Austin. Naturally, every time a SWAT team is deployed it costs money. But it’s not always the same amount – weekends and after-hours are a bit pricier than, say, a mid-day operation.

But, no matter the time, every time one of Austin's three SWAT teams rolls out on a call, it costs thousands of dollars an hour.

Are corporations people? The U.S. Supreme Court says they are, at least for some purposes. And in the past four years, the high court has dramatically expanded corporate rights.

WikiMedia Commons

An investigation has begun into the deaths of a 4-year-old boy and his 6-year-old sister who drowned in Lake Georgetown this weekend while under the care of a foster family. 

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) had placed the children under the care of a state sub-contractor called Providence Kids, an agency specializes in placing sibling groups with foster families.

DFPS spokesperson Julie Moody says the children had lived in the foster home since last August. 

The Supreme Court has ruled that family owned and other closely held companies can opt out of the Affordable Care Act's provisions for no-cost prescription contraception in most health insurance if they have religious objections.

The owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts stores and those of another closely held company, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., had objected on the grounds of religious freedom.

The ruling affirms a Hobby Lobby victory in a lower court and gives new standing to similar claims by other companies.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that unless police have a warrant, they generally cannot search data on a cellphone seized from someone who has been arrested.

The decision is seen as a sweeping win for privacy advocates.

"Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. "With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life.'

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