Courts & Criminal Justice | KERA News

Courts & Criminal Justice

After serving 20 years in prison, Ed Ates savors life at home with his wife, Kim Ates.
Allison V. Smith for KERA

Two decades in prison is a long time to go without a paycheck. For parents, that's also 20 years of missed childhood moments. Edward Ates feels the full weight of those losses, especially since he's maintained his innocence since day one. 

"Paying your debt to society by being incarcerated is just a simple myth," says Toby Savitz, ex-offender and director of programs at Pathfinders
Allison V. Smith for KERA

After serving two years in prison for possession of meth, Toby Savitz found herself in a series of low-paying jobs with no real path forward. She finally kicked the door open after landing a position at a nonprofit that helps ex-offenders like her. But she admits there aren’t enough jobs like hers to go around.

Marc Wilson standing outside the George L. Allen, Sr. Courts Building in downtown Dallas on Sept. 10, 2019. Much of the child support debt he racked up in prison has been reduced. But he's still far behind, and relief is tempered by feelings of guilt.
Courtney Collins / KERA News

Prison makes it nearly impossible to hold onto savings and earn money. But it's a great place to take on debt.

Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

The questioning dragged on all day and into the evening as lawyers queried hundreds of prospective jurors for potential bias in the trial of Amber Guyger, the white Dallas police officer who fatally shot a black neighbor in his own living room.

Before prison, Marc Wilson was set up to pass on wealth-building opportunities to his children and grandchildren, like a house and tuition help.
Allison V. Smith for KERA

When people go to prison, income dries up and earning potential rockets backward.

And when you mix incarceration with America's legacy of systemic racism, an ex-offender's ability to hand off wealth to the next generation is an even heavier struggle.

Marc Wilson's personal wealth decreased significantly after serving a seven-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. "I'm starting from scratch, you know?"
Allison V. Smith for KERA

As a father, Marc Wilson had his family firmly in the middle class. Then a drug conviction sent him to prison for seven years. 

Associated Press

With a name that sounds like futuristic fiction, Rapid DNA machines roughly the size of an office printer have helped solve rape cases in Kentucky, identified California wildfire victims and verified family connections of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Jennifer Whitney / The Texas Tribune

  

State leaders have recently cheered record-low unemployment rates in Texas. But the economic success has made it that much harder for the state to run a crucial agency — it can’t keep its prisons staffed.

Nearly half the people admitted to state prisons in the U.S. are there because of violations of probation or parole, according to a new nationwide study that highlights the personal and economic costs of the practice.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center said the majority of these violations are for "minor infractions," such as failing a drug test or missing a curfew. Those so-called technical violations cost states $2.8 billion every year, the report says.

Five Nigerian nationals living all across Texas were indicted for using false documents to open bank accounts and laundering millions gained through cyber crimes.

Four men were arrested Thursday and another is being sought for the scheme that dates back to Nov. 2016. Two additional men pleaded guilty in recent months for the crimes.

Christopher Connelly / KERA News

Four years after Sandra Bland died in a Waller County jail, her name is still reverberating in the Texas legislature.

More guns are being stolen out of cars in America, particularly in states that have made it easier for people to carry firearms on the road.

There are no reliable national numbers, but an NPR survey of a sampling of police departments reveals steady increases in reports of guns stolen from vehicles.

In Atlanta, the number rose to 1,021 in 2018 from 439 in 2009.

In St. Louis, it increased to 597 from 200 in the same period.

Eugene Keahey died by suicide in connection with a suspicious house fire that killed his wife and two daughters. Their deaths have been ruled homicides.
Courtney Collins / KERA news

The people who live in the unincorporated Dallas County community of Sandbranch don't have running water. Pastor Eugene Keahey was working to change that, until a suspicious house fire in February. 

Last week, Keahey's death was ruled a "suicide by gunshot" — his wife and two daughters were declared victims of homicide. Now, a fellow pastor is struggling to reconcile Keahey's legacy.

For the eight-and-a-half years she spent in prison, Kristan Kerr looked forward to one thing every month: a visit from her daughter, Chloe. Visit by visit, she watched Chloe grow from a toddler to nearly a teenager.

"I just watched her grow all the way up," Kerr says. "One visit, she couldn't read, and then the next visit she was reading something to me."

Convicted for aggravated robbery in 2011 – she was the driver — Kerr says she wasn't making good choices back then, and it meant missing out on a lot.

Many women have a hard time admitting — even to themselves — that they're being abused by their husband or partner. Suzanne Dubus' first husband hit her, but still, she didn't initially identify herself as a victim of abuse.

"I attributed it to alcohol," Dubus says. "I knew that his father abused his mother. And I thought, 'Well, this is just poor learning, and I can help him with this.' "

A hallway at the 24-hour Courtney's SAFE Place clinic at Turning Point rape crisis center in Plano, Texas. The clinic was designed to help patients feel calm and supported.
Courtesy Courtney's SAFE Place

The Turning Point rape crisis center in Plano is designed to be a place where survivors of sexual assault feel safe.

Los Angeles' city attorney is suing tax-preparation software companies H&R Block and TurboTax-maker Intuit, alleging that they "defrauded the lowest earning 70 percent of American taxpayers" by impeding public access to an IRS program. The IRS Free File program is intended to help people who make less than $66,000 a year file their taxes free using commercial services.

The Driver Responsibility Program is widely unpopular, but legislative attempts to repeal it have largely failed because it pays for nearly half of the state's emergency trauma care system.
Rachel Zein for The Texas Tribune

The Texas House unanimously moved Thursday to repeal the tough-to-kill Driver Responsibility Program, which critics say traps low-income drivers in a cycle of debt.

Chuck Burton / Associated Press

On Tuesday, April 30, a gunman killed two students and injured four others at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Wednesday that his office filed a brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

More low-level misdemeanor offenders will be sent to Harris County’s Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center instead of jail, local officials announced Wednesday.

More Than 500,000 Bees In Texas Killed In Act Of Vandalism

May 2, 2019

Investigators south of Houston are trying to determine who killed more than 500,000 bees by setting hives on fire, toppling some over and tossing others into a pond.

Across the country, one in four cities reported being attacked by cybercriminals every hour.  That’s according to a 2016 survey, but attacks against cities have since risen. 

Oscar Stewart was following his Saturday routine. He observed the Sabbath at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, where the sound of Torah reading usually gives him solitude and peace.

“And I hear gunshots,” Stewart said. “And having been in Iraq, I know what shots sound like.”

Stewart said his first instinct was to run for safety. He got to the exit door but then something happened.

Rodney Robinson is this year's National Teacher of the Year, and this week he was honored at a White House ceremony. Robinson has been teaching for 19 years, most recently at a juvenile detention center in Richmond, Va.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will no longer share the last written words of death row inmates after criticism from a Houston lawmaker.

File photo provided by the Mesquite Police Department of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, taken Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.
Associated Press

The former Dallas police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in his own home told a 911 dispatcher "I thought it was my apartment" nearly 20 times as she waited for emergency responders to arrive, according to a 911 recording obtained by TV station WFAA.

From Texas Standard:

Texas news outlets often report on death penalty stories, given that the state leads the nation in prisoner executions. But rarely do reports tell the stories of women on death row. Those women are housed in a prison in Gatesville, and as I wait for the guards to bring over inmate Linda Carty, I notice the room is very different from the crammed spaces where I’ve interviewed men on death row. There’s still glass separating us, but this room is spacious and well-lit.

Patrick Murphy was ready to die on March 28, and the State of Texas was ready to kill him. It was the U.S. Supreme Court that stepped in and granted the surprise execution stay. That’s why Murphy is alive today.

When the state of Texas tried to execute Patrick Murphy on March 28, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in. The high court ruled that the execution was unconstitutional. But it wasn't because of any concerns about due process or the morality of the state taking a life. The issue was religious freedom.

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