AM Update
8:06 am
Fri June 15, 2012

AM Update: Texas Earthquake, Juneteenth Celebrations, Heat Burn OKC

Juneteenth 2010 parades through Austin; Earthquake strikes north Texas; Kevin Durant leads Thunder with 32 points.
Mose Buchele, KUT News; Photo courtesy US Geological Survey; Photo by Layne Murdoch NBAE

North Texas Tremor

An earthquake shook part of North Texas early this morning.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the 3.1 magnitude earthquake happened about 16 miles south of Fort Worth and just over 150 miles north of Austin.

The local sheriff’s office says so far there are no reports of injuries or damage.

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3:31 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Insurers: Dallas Storm Damage May Exceed $400 Million

High winds destroyed a mobile home in Fannin County, outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area .

Powerful thunderstorms ripped through the Dallas-Fort Worth region late yesterday, producing strong winds and baseball-sized hail. Now comes the clean-up – and paying for it.

The Insurance Council of Texas notes the thunderstorm was the second extreme weather event to hit the region in the last six weeks. In April, several tornadoes unexpectedly touched down in the Metroplex area.

The insurance council estimates the cost of insured losses from the tornadoes exceeded $400 million – but adds "losses from last night’s storm could be higher."

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2:20 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Allen Stanford Sentenced to Over 100 Years

A 2009 mug shot of Allen Stanford.
United States Marshals Service

Texas financier Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison today, reports Agence France Presse.

Stanford was recently convicted on several charges, including fraud, after prosecutors proved he was running a Ponzi scheme with his Stanford International Bank:

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12:39 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Most Texans Plan to Take a Vacation this Summer


More Texans are planning to go on vacation this summer.

A new AAA Texas survey found 75 percent of Texans plan to take at least one summer trip. That’s up from 72 percent last year.

Lower gas prices may have something to do with the increase. In Austin, a gallon of unleaded is about 20 cents cheaper now than a year ago.

Around half of those who are traveling say gas prices are not significantly affecting their plans. The survey found those Texans who are going on vacation are finding ways to adjust their trip budgets for gas prices.

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11:59 am
Wed June 13, 2012

ERCOT App Sends Alerts When Grid Demand is High

The ERCOT Control Center at their headquarters in Taylor, Texas.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

ERCOT – the organization that operates the state’s power grid – unveiled a free mobile app today that lets consumers know about demand on the grid. When demand is high, the app will send out notification messages.

The app also includes tips for conserving energy.

2:13 pm
Thu June 7, 2012

Report: Texas Prisoners Spending More Time Behind Bars

Texas Tribune

The amount of time Texas prisoners spent behind bars increased by a third since 1990, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States. The average inmate spent an extra eight months in prison in 2009 compared to 1990, costing the state an additional $620 million that year. 

The average prisoner in Texas served 2 years, nine months in prison in 2009. The typical cost of keeping someone incarcerated in Texas about $1,800 per month. 

Much of the increase in time served happened in the 1990s, according to Scott Henson of Grits for Breakfast, a blog focused on criminal justice in Texas.

“At a time when the Texas legislature has massive budget problems and the [Texas] Department of Criminal Justice is falling short on its funding for prisoner health care and can’t afford its treatment services, this is a huge number," Henson said. "This is a lot of money.” 

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10:59 am
Wed June 6, 2012

Is Bastrop State Park 'America's Favorite?'

Bastrop State Park, photographed in March 2012.
Photo by Mario Jacinto for KUT News

Fire-ravaged Bastrop State Park is in second place in an online competition naming “America’s Favorite Park.” At stake? First place is a $100,000 grant, second place nets $50,000 and third place gets $25,000.

The park was devastated last year by the Labor Day wildfires which burned 96 percent of the historic 6,500 acre park. Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Rob McCorkle says the grant money would allow the park to extend a contract with an American YouthWorks team that’s been rebuilding trails and bridges.

McCorkle says despite the damage done by the fires, the park is making a comeback. “Everything is pretty much up and running – it’s just the landscaping that took such a serious hit from the fires.” The park largely reopened in April.

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3:05 pm
Tue June 5, 2012

Bridging the Digital Divide: Conference Aims to Bring Broadband Internet to All Texans

Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

In Texas, nearly one million households still are not using the Internet. More than 38 percent of Texans are still not connected to high-speed Internet at home, even though they could be. And with 11 percent of the Texas population completely unconnected, a lack of digital literacy is a real issue.

The Connected Texas Broadband Summit, being held today in Dallas, is for anyone who wants to address those issues. 

“We want to help plan to create initiatives and momentum behind expanding broadband in areas where it remains gapped, and in areas where digital literacy and broadband adoption lag behind,” explained Jessica Ditto, Director of Communications for Connected Nations.

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4:29 pm
Fri June 1, 2012

State Backs DNA Testing for Hank Skinner

Photo by Caleb Bryant MIller/Texas Tribune

Reversing its decade-long objection to testing that death row inmate Hank Skinner says could prove his innocence, the Texas Attorney General's office today filed an advisory with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals seeking to test DNA in the case. 

"Upon further consideration, the State believes that the interest of justice would best be served by DNA testing the evidence requested by Skinner and by testing additional items identified by the state," lawyers for the state wrote in the advisory.

Skinner, now 50, was convicted in 1995 of the strangulation and beating death of his girlfriend Twila Busby and the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Pampa. Skinner maintains he is innocent and was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine.

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4:41 pm
Thu May 31, 2012

Texas Drought: Better But Not Over

The drought map from this time last year (left) and the map released today (right) shows Texas with much less drought.
Image courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor

The worst drought in Texas history isn’t over but it’s not as bad – at least for now.

Most of Central Texas is classified as “abnormally dry.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor released a new drought map today and it shows most of the area is under the least severe stage of drought. The western part of Travis County and much of the hill country is a little bit drier – considered in “moderate” drought.

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Williamson County
11:30 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Howdy Duty!

Photo illustration by Brandi Grissom, Todd Wiseman for the Texas Tribune

Update 11:33 p. m.:

Challenger Jana Duty has unseated incumbent John Bradley, garnering 55% of the vote.

Original Post:

Early voting results are in for Williamson County, where the Republican primary race for District Attorney is arguably the one to watch.

Challenger Jana Duty has 53 percent of the vote compared to incumbent John Bradley’s 47 percent. Less than 700 votes separate the candidates. A little more than 1,500 votes were tallied in early voting.

Duty has made Bradley’s handling of the Michael Morton case a central plank of her campaign.

She told YNN last night: "The policies and procedures have to change because those procedures that was in place 25 years ago in the Michael Morton case, are still in place today,” Duty said. “We have to have an open discovery policy, we have to have fairness."

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11:08 am
Tue May 29, 2012

Director of Troubled Youth Agency to Retire

Photo courtesy of Sam Houston State University

Cherie Townsend, the executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, announced Tuesday that she will retire at the end of June after nearly four years leading the state's institutions for youth offenders.

In an email sent Tuesday morning to agency staff, Townsend wrote that in the last couple of months, as the agency has struggled to deal with reports of increasing violence and safety concerns at the state's youth lockups, her "values and principles related to best practices in juvenile justice" have detracted from "the mission and work of the agency."

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AM Update
8:23 am
Tue May 29, 2012

AM Update: Texas Primaries Finally Arrive, Fatal SMU Standoff, County Commissioners Meet

Polls are open until 7 p.m. in the Texas primaries today.
Photo by KUT News

Polls Open for 2012 Texas Primaries

After being pushed back repeatedly, the Texas primary elections are here.

Voters in the Republican and Democratic primaries will nominate candidates for offices ranging from the President and U.S. Senate to county positions like District Attorney and Tax Assessor-Collector.  You can view the parties’ sample ballots online.

Polls opened at 7 a.m., and although early voting numbers have been low, Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade is hoping for a higher election day turnout.

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Fort Hood
4:55 pm
Thu May 24, 2012

Soldier Found Guilty in Fort Hood Bomb Plot

Photo courtesy of Killeen Police Department

Naser Jason Abdo, a Muslim-American soldier, was convicted by a jury in Waco today of attempting to blow up a restaurant in Killeen that was popular among soldiers at Fort Hood. The Associated Press broke the news this afternoon.

The Waco jury convicted Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo of the most serious charge, attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, which could land him in prison for life. Abdo also was convicted of attempted murder of U.S. officers or employees, and four counts of possessing a weapon in furtherance of a federal crime of violence.

The Austin-American Statesman sent a reporter to cover the trial and said jurors deliberated for only about an hour. None of them would talk to reporters afterwards.  

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12:09 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

Minorities Now Majority Among Youngest Americans

The minority growth trends are reflected in Texas and in Austin.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/speakingofhistory

For the first time, more than half of the children born in the U.S. are non-white.  New census data released today shows 50.4 percent of U.S. children under one year are minorities.

The number is even higher in Texas. Here, about 70 percent of kids under one are non-white.

Altogether, minorities make up more than 36 percent of the U.S. population and more than 55 percent in Texas. Texas is one of only five regions — along with Hawaii, the District of Columbia, California, and New Mexico — to have a minority-majority.

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Williamson County
4:36 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

Morton Case is Focus of Williamson County DA Race

County Attorney Jana Duty is challenging District Attorney John Bradley for his position in Williamson County.
Photo illustration by Brandi Grissom and Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Michael Morton’s name isn’t on the ballot, and he isn’t endorsing anyone in what has become a nasty campaign to become the next district attorney in tough-on-crime Williamson County. 

But his wrongful conviction is the central issue in the GOP primary fight between incumbent District Attorney John Bradley — who spent five years opposing DNA testing that ultimately exonerated Morton — and County Attorney Jana Duty.

While Morton may be staying out of the fray, many close to his case have decided to get involved, hoping, they say, to change the way justice is meted out in Williamson County by urging voters to hold Bradley accountable.

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Death Penalty
10:27 am
Tue May 15, 2012

Questions About Another Texas Execution: Was Wrong Man Condemned?

Originally published on Tue May 15, 2012 9:11 am

Already in the spotlight over whether it executed one innocent man — Cameron Todd Willingham — in 2004, the state of Texas now faces questions about whether another man may have been wrongly condemned to death.

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Criminal Justice
4:50 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Rare Reprieve Granted to Inmate Marked for Execution

A Texas court granted a reprieve to a prisoner due for execution on Wednesday
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. 

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10:25 am
Fri May 11, 2012

Fake Twitter Feeds, Deceptive Websites Shake Up Primary

Image by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Looking for state Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s personal website? It's not jeffwentworth.com, an attack site that blasts the 20-year San Antonio incumbent as “the most liberal Republican senator in Austin.”

Want to know what Ted Cruz, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, says on Twitter? Don't follow @RealTedCruz, which calls the former state solicitor general a “trial lawyer standing with a Chinese conglomerate to kill American jobs.” 

Straddling the line between dirty tricks and political strategy is as old as elections. And campaign impersonation dates at least as far back as the 1970s, when Donald Segretti, President Richard Nixon’s re-election operative, forged letters seeking to discredit Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie — a move that landed Segretti in prison.

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11:55 am
Tue May 8, 2012

Davy Crockett, King of the Auction House

A letter from David Crockett, drafted some six months before his death at the Alamo, is for sale.
Letter image courtesy rrauction.com

A letter written by famed frontiersman Davy Crockett on the eve of his trip to Texas is being sold at auction.

The letter, dated September 30, 1835, is Crockett’s reply to a dinner invitation. The reply was written while he was still living in Tennessee, before he moved to Texas and about six months before Crockett’s death in the Alamo, according to RR Auction.

Crockett had recently lost his seat in Congress and displayed his distaste for politics in the letter. He states his desire not to attend a political dinner and only accepts due to the social nature of the event.

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