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Texas House Committee Examines State DNA Testing

By Bill Zeeble & BJ Austin, KERA News & Wire Services

Dallas, TX – A Texas House committee has heard testimony on why it's important for authorities to hold onto evidence in criminal cases - even those when the defendant pleads guilty.

The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee wants to improve Texas DNA testing.

Rebecca Bernhardt, policy director of the Texas Forensic Service, told the committee Tuesday that DNA evidence is sometimes destroyed as part of guilty plea agreements with defendants.

She also said that, because of the volume of evidence stored, some of it is discarded after cases end in convictions with long prison terms.

But Bernhardt said that evidence should be kept indefinitely since it has been used to exonerate defendants years later.

She pointed to cases where defendants plead guilty for reduced sentences, only to later be exonerated by DNA evidence.

Dallas County Creates Mediation Center

Dallas County is creating a Dispute Resolution Center for civil court cases.

County Judge Clay Jenkins says an outside firm had been handling all court-ordered mediation. But, Judges were concerned not enough cases were being settled, and recommended this new system.

Jenkins: In the past we've paid a private vendor 11 thousand dollars a month to do that for us. This new situation, we'll be doing that in-house. I think it's a projected savings of about 144 thousand a year.

Judge Jenkins says it will also spare litigants the expense of private mediation. He says volunteer - pro bono - mediators will staff the new Center, which will be in a couple of under-utilized rooms in the Allen Courts building.

Garland State Rep Pleads Guilty

State Representative Joe Driver, a Republican from Garland, has pleaded guilty to a third degree felony in a deal that would allow him to avoid jail time.

Prosecutors say Driver pled guilty to a charge of "official abuse of capacity." He was accused of using thousands of taxpayer dollars to reimburse himself for travel expenses his campaign had already paid for. Driver repaid nearly 50 thousand dollars.

Prosecutors are recommending five years probation and a five thousand dollar fine.

Sentencing is December 19th.

Driver is not seeking re-election.

State Colleges & Universities Are Safety Rated

Several North Texas public colleges and universities ranked among the top 100 safest schools in the country, according to research from State University-dot-com.

Eastfield College, in Mesquite, comes in at number 69. Paris Junior College and Richland College are safety-rated at 100 and 102 respectively. The University of Texas at Dallas is listed at 190 and UT Arlington is rated at 247.

The campus safety scale assesses crime severity and frequency, based on campus police reports. The statistics compiled between January and December of 2010 looked at 450 schools.

The nation's safest university is Arkansas State, in Beebe. Central Texas College in Killeen, next to Fort Hood, ranks number five.

State University-dot-com supplies information predominantly about the nation's state universities.

Gas prices drop 5 cents across Texas

As Thanksgiving approaches, the average price for gas in Texas has declined.

AAA Texas on Tuesday said the current statewide average is $3.17, down 5 cents from last week.

The national average for gasoline is $3.35, four cents less than last week.

The association says the most expensive gas average in Texas can be found in Texarkana at $3.22 a gallon. The least expensive average can be found in Corpus Christi at $3.10.

AAA Texas says the average distance Texans travel for the holiday is expected to be 959 miles roundtrip.

The group says nearly 3.3 million Texans will travel 50 miles or more from home for the holiday, a 5 percent increase in total Thanksgiving travel compared to last year.

Parched Texas city wants pipeline in state park

Officials have approved an unprecedented step of building a water pipeline through a state park to help a Central Texas town that the mayor says could run dry in two weeks.

Groesbeck Mayor Jackie Livingston says the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department gave the verbal go-ahead on the plan at a City Council meeting Monday night.

Livingston says work on the three-mile pipeline through Fort Parker State Park won't begin until contracts are signed, probably in about a week. She has estimated that it will take four days to build the pipeline. She says the city could run out of water Dec. 6.

Agency official Rodney Franklin says he isn't aware of a water pipeline running through a state park anywhere in Texas, which is struggling with a historic drought.

Mother Arrested In Death Of Three Year Old

The mother of a three year old boy is under arrest - charged with not doing anything to stop her live-in boyfriend from beating the boy to death.

Police say 21 year old Catalina Garcia is charged with injury to a child "by omission" and is being held on half-a-million dollars bail.

24 year old Christopher Garcia is charged with murder. He triggered an Amber Alert by taking two younger siblings and fleeing after Catalina took three year old Josiah to the hospital. The two children were found unharmed. Christopher Garcia eventually surrendered.

George W. Bush to raise cancer awareness in Africa

Former President George W. Bush will travel to Africa to raise awareness about cervical and breast cancer.

Bush's policy institute is one of the organizations that announced this fall the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative to expand the availability of cervical cancer screening and treatment and breast care education in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

Bush and former first lady Laura Bush will travel next month to Tanzania, Zambia and Ethiopia, meeting with governmental and health care leaders.

Bush tells The Associated Press it's in the nation's best interest to "deal with disease and set priorities and save lives."

He says it's a "natural extension" of the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which he launched in 2003.

LED system to light up downtown Fort Worth

A new state-of-the-art LED lighting system is set to illuminate downtown Fort Worth.

The lights are expected to be switched on Friday in Sundance Square, a 35-block commercial, residential, entertainment and retail district in downtown Fort Worth.

The lighting system replaces the white bulbs that have outlined many Sundance Square buildings for years. Installers have used more than 7,600 feet of LED cable to outline about 18 buildings, mostly along Main Street.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the system is computer-operated and has 16 million color options with unlimited program combinations, such as lighting sequences that jump the streets from block to block.

Sundance's marketing director Tracy Gilmour says it has taken workers about 5,000 hours to install the lights and 100 hours to program them.