KUT News

Crime rates in Texas, and particularly in Austin, have been in decline over the past few years.

Most Texas jurisdictions saw declines in reported violent and property crime in the first six months of 2011 compared to 2010.

The decline comes despite a faltering economy and rising wealth disparity; despite increased gun ownership; despite lofty drop-out rates in high schools; despite depopulating Texas youth prisons, reducing their inmate numbers from 5,000 to 1,100 since 2007; despite Texas releasing more than 70,000 adult inmates per year from prison back into their home communities.

To the surprise of some criminologists, none of these factors have prevented crime rates from going down nearly across the board.

Image courtesy Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled today to stop the scheduled execution of a convicted killer because of his mental health issues.

The state's highest criminal court gave a reprieve to 49-year-old Steven Staley. Staley’s execution was set for Wednesday. He was convicted of the 1989 shooting death of a Fort Worth restaurant manager during a botched robbery.

Staley's attorney argued that the prisoner's IQ of 70 likely meant he was mentally impaired and therefore ineligible for execution. 

A fund used to compensate victims of violent crime is not meeting its benchmarks, lawmakers learned today.
Image courtesy Office of the Texas Attorney General

The state fund used to compensate some crime victims is facing major financial problems.

That's what members of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee heard today. Lawmakers learned that court fees going into the fund have fallen in the past three years – creating a short term deficit and threatening the long-term survival of the fund, according to the Associated Press.

The Crime Victims' Compensation program assists those affected by violent or traumatic crimes, offering up to $75,000 in cases of “catastrophic injuries resulting in a total and permanent disability.” 

Images courtesy Austin Police Department

Funeral for Slain Officer

The public is invited to salute fallen Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron.

Padron was shot to death on Friday while responding to a call at a North Austin Wal-Mart.

Visitation is tomorrow from 6 to 8:00 p.m. at Cook-Walden Funeral Home at 6100 North Lamar Blvd. The funeral will be held this Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Shoreline Church on Burnet Road. Austin Cops for Charities, a local group that provides aid and support for the family of Austin officers, has created a donation fund for Padron’s family.

Photo Courtesy of National Weather Service

Governor Perry to Tour Tornado Damaged Areas

Governor Rick Perry is scheduled to take an aerial tour of the Dallas-Fort Worth area damaged by tornadoes today. Perry plans to tour Lancaster, one of the hardest hit areas by the storms, according to the Texas Tribune.

The National Weather Service estimates up to a dozen tornadoes touched down in North Texas on Tuesday—one of those tornadoes was rated an E-F-3 with winds of up to 165 miles-per-hour.

Photo courtesy

Austin Shoplifting Ring Busted

The Associated Press reports an Austin shoplifting ring has been caught selling stolen goods and smuggling them to Mexico. The list of stolen goods includes multiple household items: detergents, shampoos, batteries, cosmetics and razors.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Michael Morton has experienced a harrowing, remarkable journey .

Morton served 25 years in a Texas prison, convicted of the murder of his wife in 1987. It wasn’t until 2011 that DNA testing, unavailable at the time of his conviction, proved the innocence he had long maintained.

Morton came to the KUT studios yesterday for an extended interview covering his time in prison, the justice system and wrongful convictions. (An Austin resident before his incarceration, Morton was at UT to discuss the latter topic that day.)

Photo courtesy of Raymond Thomas

Students and activists assembled outside the offices of The Daily Texan this afternoon, demanding answers about the controversial Trayvon Martin editorial cartoon the student newspaper ran Tuesday. What editorial process vetted the cartoon? Will the firestorm result in any changes at the Texan? And is the cartoon’s publication symptomatic of a broader problem on campus?

About 40 people engaged in a tense discussion with members of the Texan’s editorial staff. Staff members apologized for running the cartoon, promising a formal apology to supplement a terse statement the paper released yesterday and another the cartoonist sent today.

Discussion dwelt on the editorial process that oversaw the comic’s publication. Viviana Aldous, Texan Editor in Chief, said at least five editors at the paper vetted the cartoon before publication – the five members of the editorial team, plus copy editors.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Close to three hundred protesters donned hoodies and gathered at the gates of the State Capitol Tuesday night in remembrance of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. It was a silent protest. It’s one in a series of rallies across the country this week that expressed anger over Martin’s killing by a neighborhood watch volunteer. 

Austin attorney James Nortey helped organize the event. He says the group spread the word about the protest almost exclusively through social media and word-of-mouth. Nortey says he's pleased with the Austin community for showing up.

Image courtesy

The local drug and money laundering bust of Yassine Enterprises has taken an international turn, as authorities allege proceeds from the organization’s nightclubs, drugs, and money laundering operations went overseas to fund militant Lebanese group Hezbollah, an organization designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.

KEYE reports on the arraignment of the Yassine Enterprises defendants this morning:

During bond hearings in federal court in Austin Tuesday, an Internal Revenue Service investigator said Hussein "Mike" Ali Yassine and Mohammed "Steve Austin" Ali Yassine sent money in $2,500 increments to their uncle, Mohammed Ishmael in Lebanon.  Authorities say he is associated with Hezbollah, a militant group and political party in Lebanon. 

Photo by Divya Darsi for KUT News

Pounds of pot, kilos of cocaine and bundles of bills were on display at an Austin police station today.

The department’s organized crime division was showing off what it obtained from three major drug seizures over the past month. APD Assistant Chief Sean Mannix said officers also captured more than six-and-a-half pounds of tar heroin.

"In talking to the other officers and detectives, supervisors in the room, none of us in our memories can remember a seizure of heroin that large in the city of Austin,” said Assistant Chief Mannix. “It’s a tremendous amount of heroin."

Image courtesy Hays County Crime Stoppers

Authorities have released information on a brutal assault and attempted murder of a teen lured from an Austin bus stop, including a sketch of the suspect.

From Hays County Crime Stoppers:

On Thursday, March 15, 2012 at approximately 9:45am, a 17-year-old female was lured into a white vehicle in the area of 51st Street and Manor Road in Austin, Travis County, Texas.  At 11:45am, Hays County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to Highway 290 in the area of CR 165, west of Dripping Springs near the Blanco County border, where the victim had been found on the side of the road by a passing motorist.  The victim was transported to the hospital and treated for injuries she sustained during the incident.  The subsequent investigation revealed that the female victim had been physically and sexually assaulted.

Photo courtesy

The killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17 year-old African-American, by self-described neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, has sparked a national discussion about racial profiling and vigilante justice.

It has also prompted a more critical look at so-called “stand your ground” laws in Florida, the state where the incident took place, and across the nation, including Texas.

Police in the Orlando suburb of Sanford have yet to arrest Zimmerman, as Florida law permits the use of deadly force in self-defense. (Despite reports that he was the party to instigate the confrontation, Zimmerman says he did act in self-defense.)

Prison Radio Show is Inmates' Link to the Outside World

Mar 19, 2012
Photo by Michael Stravato for the Texas Tribune

On Friday nights, in prison cells across East and Southeast Texas, a window opens to the outside world. For two hours, a Houston-based radio show breaks the isolation of the incarcerated, linking inmates to families, friends and life outside lockup.

The Prison Show,” which started in 1980 on KPFT, is part news program and part call-in radio show. Some Texas inmates have listened to their own weddings on the show, with the new spouse and a proxy exchanging vows in the studio. Others have listened to their children grow up on the radio, hearing news of soccer games and report cards from children they never see.

And for inmates who are no longer in prison, the show is familiar in a world that feels foreign.

14 Central Texans are facing federal charges, after being arrested for suspected involvement in what authorities describe as an Austin area cocaine distribution network. At least 6 others are facing state charges in connection with the distribution ring.

“The evidence will suggest that there was over 150 kilos of cocaine involved in the conspiracy and, as such, these individuals were charged at the highest level,” says Robert Pitman, U.S. Attorney with the Department of Justice’s Western District of Texas.

Nasha Lee / KUT News

Austin Crime Lab Receives Second Complaint

As reported by The Austin American-Statesman, the Austin Police Department's crime lab has received a second complaint. The complaint comes from an independent lab in North Texas claiming it received different results than the Austin lab when testing the same evidence. 

Austin’s infamous Yogurt Shop Murders may be getting a fresh set of eyes.

The 1991 crime – the assault and murder of four young Austin women at an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! shop in north Austin, which was then set ablaze – has never been solved.

In 1999, Austin Police arrested four suspects in connection with the crime: Robert Springsteen, Michael Scott, Maurice Pierce, and Forrest Wellborn. Charges were dropped against the latter two suspects. Springsteen and Scott were convicted but ultimately released after a DNA swab from one of the victims – not originally available in 1991– confirmed the existence of an unknown suspect the police have been unable to identify.

However, the District Attorney’s office have continued to treat Springsteen and Scott as prime suspects. When the DNA evidence was released in 2009, D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg told The Austin Chronicle the new evidence “does not exonerate anybody."

Photo by manue_aka_crazeecrafteez

The legendary East Austin barbeque restaurant Sam’s Bar-B-Cue is having its business license revoked today following allegations the owners purchased meat stolen from H-E-B.  Two other restaurants, La Morinita at 2944 East 12th St. and Willie’s BBQ at 4505 East Martin Luther King Blvd., are also being shut down.

Image courtesy Keith Burtis

The two men charged in a string of church fires last year in East Texas have announced their plan to plead guilty, reports the Associated Press. 

Austin police badge
Image courtesy APD

Austin police are dealing with their 30th homicide case of the year. This time last year, there had been 19 recorded murders in Austin.

Someone called police at 10:11 p.m. yesterday to report two men fighting at Pleasant Valley Road and East Riverside Drive. By the time officers arrived, they found a 50-year-old man in the street bleeding from a stab wound. He was rushed to Brackenridge Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police got a description of the alleged attacker from witnesses and arrested him a short while later. Charges are pending.