Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What say ye, Bryan/College Station Eagle?

Death is on the table and Gabriel Hall's defense team is putting on a spirited punishment defense. Hall has  been convicted of Capital Murder and his defense team is now in the midst of putting on it's case to try and convince the jury to spare him from the Death Penalty. 

Two local media outlets, our local paper, The Bryan College Station Eagle (The Eagle) and KBTX, our local television station, are covering the trial. 

Their coverage has been different - primarily in The Eagle's later print editions. 

The Eagle has virtually omitted non-blog coverage of a central defense mitigation theme against imposition of death: Gabriel Hall was abused not only by his biological father in the Philippines, but was also abused and neglected by his adoptive parents, Karen Kruse Hall and local lawyer Wes Hall. 

Initially, take a look at the entries from The Eagle and KBTX blogs from the morning proceedings of 09/28/2015.

First is KBTX blog. The first two entries from the KBTX morning session are edited out - they simply introduced the witness and noted the seating of the jury.

I have italicized the entries from KBTX related the expert testimony to Gabriel Hall's treatment at the hands of Karen and Wes Hall. These contentions contribute to what the defense contends is mitigation evidence supporting a punishment of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).

Entries are formatted last entry to first:
11:38  Day 16 - Update 11
Lunch break.  We'll return at 1:45 p.m.
11:30  Day 16 - Update 10
Dr. Brams  [a defense psychologist] is describing Karen and Wes Hall's home.  She says (based on photos) it is not a home that's predictable or organized.  She says there's no privacy or schedules.   She talks about hoarding in the Hall's home.  Dr. Brams says it appears Karen Hall hoards children like someone else would hoard stuff from TJ Maxx.
11:22  Day 16 - Update 9
Dr. Brams is breaking down the "inappropriate and destructive" adoptions by Karen and Wes Hall.  She says the kids walk daily "on egg shells" in the Hall's home.   There's a graphic to breakdown all that's wrong with the Hall's home and the damage their adoptions do to children. 
11:13  Day 16 - Update 8
Dr. Brams says any child who has gone through what Gabriel has gone through requires immediate therapy and attention to address his trauma.  
10:43  Day 16 - Update 7
Testimony from Dr. Brams is expected to continue for another 40 minutes. We're going to take a 10 minute break. 
10:35  Day 16 - Update 6
Dr. Brams says to escape his trauma, Gabriel would often go let his imagination take control.  He would talk to imaginary friends, make friends with insects and would go into a world of fantasy and daydream.  This continued through his childhood and teenage years, because that's how he was able to escape the trauma as a child.
10:12  Day 16 - Update 5
Dr. Brams says following his adoption, Gabriel Hall entered a home that was "destructive and inappropriate."   He had to "survive emotionally" inside Wes and Karen Hall's home. 
09:55  Day 16 - Update 4
Dr. Brams -  "No studies out there can replicate the trauma Gabe has experienced."  
09:37  Day 16 - Update 3 
Dr. Brams says there's several traumatic fators from Gabriel's childhood [see photo below].    She says he comes from "generational trauma" - which is "traumatized parents raising traumatized children."  Dr. Brams says the kind of poverty Gabriel grew up in is nothing like any kind of poverty we see in the United States.  She says Gabriel witnessed not only abuse - but torture during his childhood.  Dr. Brams goes on to say Gabriel was abandoned at several critical stages in his life. 
"He has so many traumatic factors, it's off the scales of what we typically see in the United States," said Dr. Brams.  
Compare this to The Eagle's blog entries (last entry first), from same courtroom. Blog entries related to Karen and Wes Hall are italicized:
Lunch break. Back at 1:45.
Brams said the Children's Shelter of Cebu provided great things to Gabriel Hall and his siblings. It was a paradise in a world of poverty. But, she said the shelter couldn't provide the proper treatment for the trauma Hall had lived through. He was also a victim and witness of physical violence at the hands of his biological mother and father. 
She said what Hall needed most was intensive trauma treatment. She said he needed it at CSC and he needed it after he was adopted. Brams said he never got that treatment. Brams called the Hall home inappropriate and destructive. She said the Hall home lacked treatment opportunities, it was unpredictable, the kids experienced verbal and physical abuse, and there were constant demands for obedience — not love.
She said these factors contributed to the way Hall's brain was functioning the night he attacked Edwin and Linda Shaar.
Brams showed a video of an experiment demonstrating the immediate effects of neglect on a baby. In the experiment, a mother ineracts with her 1-year-old baby. There is lots of give and take between the mother and the baby, then the mother was instructed to stop responding. The mother just stared at the baby, no facial expressions, no response of any kind. 
The baby did everything she could to get the mother to respond again and eventually broke down and started crying. After a minute or two, the mother comforted her child. Brams told the jury to think about what happens to a baby's mind if the parent is not there to comfort the child — to bring the child back in.
Brams showed a video of another experiment that suggested even very young children (the ones in the experiment were only a few months old) can tell the difference between good and bad behavior.
The first witness of the day is psychologist Jolie Brams. She is showing jurors a presentation outlining the various psychological needs of a growing child and how poverty affects that.
She called Hall a broken child. She said he never got the nurturing from his parents that a developing child needs. He was abandoned and his mind suffered for that. His exposure to violence in the slums and constant hunger put his mind under a lot of stress at an early age. Brams said Hall's emotions and behavior did not develop the way they should have, because of the extreme and constant stress.
 She said she could show jurors all kinds of different stats and studies, but nothing can replicate the extreme poverty that Gabriel Hall went through in the slums in the Philippines.
She said these factors contributed to the way Hall's brain was functioning the night he attacked Edwin and Linda Shaar.
The Eagle's newstory in their 09/29/2015 edition virtually omits the testimony from Brams about Gabriel Hall's experiences in Karen and Wes Hall home. Specifically omitted is how, at least according to Brams, these experiences serve to mitigate in favor of a non-death penalty outcome. Instead, The Eagle's treatment of Bram's testimony about Karen and Wes Hall was relegated to 19 words in the last sentence of their 560 plus word news story:
Brams also said living with the Halls was a contributing factor in why Gabriel Hall wanted to hurt strangers.
That's it. No facts. No details.

I realize the State has contended much of the Karen and Wes Hall evidence is not relevant, but Bram's testimony was heard by the jury. That makes it newsworthy. If legal relevance were the yard stick, I would go further. I would argue the jury ought to hear about Karen Hall's familial relationship with Blue Bell Creameries. This evidence would explain how she was financially able to adopt 18 children from different parts of the world and how she was able to feed and house them once brought to Texas.

Whether the jury give any weight to the testimony is another matter. That is not the issue here. The testimony form Brams and others about the conditions in the adoptive household Karen and Wes Hall brought Gabriel into IS newsworthy, is it not? Is it not necessary to give a fair reporting of how the defense is arguing mitigation exists?

Mitigation evidence in  a case where the government seeks death is a supposed to broad. And well it should be.

I do not wish to pick a fight with a business that buys it's ink by the barrel. I also realize the press can choose pretty much what it wants to print as long as it is minimally responsible about how it gathers and reports that information. No one is arguing The Eagle is not living up to those responsibilities. However, as a citizen of this community, I feel compelled to point out these omissions.

What say ye, The Eagle?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

...Justice For All?

There is a defendant I know who engaged in illegal conduct - felony conduct - that caused the death of a young man in Van Zandt County, Texas. He was not the only victim, even from the incident that took his life. There were many more.

You all know this defendant. It is that very iconic American corporation, General Motors (GM).

According to a The New York Times story dated September 17, 2015:
As the number of deaths linked to defective cars made by General Motors has steadily risen to 124, victims’ families have waited for the answer to a burning question: How will federal prosecutors hold the automaker accountable for its decade-long failure to disclose the defect?
The defect the NYT wrote of was in the ignition switch. The switch would shut off certain makes of GM designed and manufactured cars (less expensive makes, of course) disabling the airbags. This all could, and did, occur under normal road conditions. GM knew of the problem for 10 years, but did nothing. It took the work of a private lawyer to finally force regulators to require GM to institute the recall, and admit both the defect, and their knowledge of it that resulted in the criminal investigation.

The answer to the families, according to the same NYT story, came last week:
In a settlement with prosecutors, no individual employees were charged, and the Justice Department agreed to defer prosecution of the company for three years. If G.M. adheres to the agreement, which includes independent monitoring of its safety practices, the company can have its record wiped clean.
GM gets the equivalent of what is not available for misdemeanor possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana in Brazos County, Texas: 3 years deferred prosecution. That would be for causing 124 deaths in 10 years for a defect it knew about and chose not to correct.

GM's punishment does not take into account the collateral damage they caused. In this case, the damage takes the form of a woman wrongful convicted for criminal negligent homicide. From another NYT story from November, 2014 involving a death in Van Zandt County, Texas:
The judge cleared [Candice] Anderson in the death of the boyfriend, Gene Mikale Erickson, even though she had pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in the case years ago. 
Ms. Anderson, 21 at the time of the crash, was driving her car when she inexplicably lost control and crashed into a tree. Mr. Erickson, her passenger, died at the scene, and Ms. Anderson has been racked with guilt ever since.
In getting her record cleared, Ms. Anderson benefited from an extraordinary — and long delayed — admission by General Motors, which on Monday for the first time publicly linked Mr. Erickson’s death to an ignition switch defect in millions of its small cars.
I use term "collateral damage" loosely, because GM did not cop to causing it.
James R. Cain, a spokesman for G.M., said in a statement: 'We have taken a neutral position on Ms. Anderson’s case. It is appropriate for the court to determine the legal status of Ms. Anderson.' 
The Van Zandt County District Attorney supported the move, well, because her oath required it:
The district attorney who prosecuted Ms. Anderson, Leslie Poynter Dixon, and the police trooper who investigated the accident had both said that if the ignition-switch defect had been publicly known at the time of the crash, certain details of the accident — like the lack of skid marks or evasive action — would have been seen differently.
Tell me, are the elements of the Texas criminal negligent homicide penal statue (here and here) not present regarding GM's responsibility in causing Mr. Erickson's death? GM knew of the ignition defect. They affirmatively concealed it. The design and concealment caused Mr. Erickson's death, all while GM stood by as another was convicted of the very same crime. Am I missing something?

There is more. Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) pleaded guilty to disfiguring boys by it's overaggressive selling of the drug Risperdal. As reported by the NYT last week:
 J&J got caught, pleaded guilty to a crime and has paid more than $2 billion in penalties and settlements. But that pales next to some $30 billion in sales of Risperdal around the world.
Finally, not to be outdone by corporate rival GM, Volkswagen this week copped to extensive fraud in dodging emission tests after years of denials.

Our civil tort system traditionally has been the forum for corporate responsibility and change. This is really no longer the case for reason not germane to this post.

Due process of law does not promise the same result for all defendants. It does, however, promise evenhandedness. I have written recently about how African American men opt out of a system that does not by any standard look, or view the world as they do. The system that so ardently prosecutes these men of color must prosecute corporate decision makers at the same level of intensity as it prosecutes these African American men. If not, it  must treat these men of color similarly to the decision makers behind that green curtain of corporate anonymity. Unless we as a community do this, the promise of due process of law is a fiction that deserves not only condemnation but constitutional insurrection.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Our Gift From The Deep Past

UPDATED 09/27/2015: The Atlantic has a story dated September 23, 2015 entitled Autism's Hidden Gifts, by Olgha Khazan. In the story Khazan writes:
Increasingly, researchers are finding that even autistic people who seem, at first glance, to be profoundly disabled might actually be gifted in surprising ways. And these talents are not limited to quirky party tricks, like knowing whether January 5, 1956 was a Tuesday. Scientists believe they are signs of true intelligence that might be superior to that of non-autistic people.
This, of course, operates as confirmation bias for what I have experienced, felt and written about previously, and write of below. Confirmation bias be damned, it just fits.

I watched my youngest child twist himself up in an examination room at a large Children's Hospital this week. You see, my son contorts his body, bending his torso as if mirroring Jack LaLanne during a 1960s era telecast. His contortions are all about emotional comfort. However, his pretzel like positioning has caused much gnashing of teeth amongst his health care providers. They worry about scoliosis. As a result he will be wearing the modern equivalent of a medieval torture device to stop the twisting and bending.

I thought of the Hugo classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Don't want my son to resemble Quasimodo, eh Doc?

All this had me paying closer attention to a Slate.com posting this week, Our Neurodiverse World authored by Steve Silberman. Silberman has a book he is promoting, the cover of which is below this paragraph.

It is cool with me. Here is a link if you wish to look more closely at buying it.

Silberman's writing in Slate is thought provoking. Challenging accepted premises is generally a good thing, right? When it hits as close to home as my offspring, and, potentially, their offspring, I always am attentive. Siberman writes:
Society continues to insist on framing autism as a contemporary aberration—the unique disorder of our uniquely disordered times—caused by some tragic convergence of genetic predisposition and risk factors hidden somewhere in the toxic modern world, such as air pollution, an overdose of video games, and highly processed foods.
Our DNA tells a different story. In recent years, researchers have determined that most cases of autism are not rooted in rare de novo mutations but in very old genes that are shared widely in the general population while being concentrated more in certain families than others. Whatever autism is, it is not a unique product of modern civilization. It is a strange gift from our deep past, passed down through millions of years of evolution.
I am still wrapping my mind around this. My two oldest sons are entering adulthood, and possibly fatherhood. What for them? What of my youngest? Should I rue my genetic footprint?

I have written here and here about my son and my imaginings of whether he has special insights and gifts that are collectively missed in the world's rush to "treat" him.

Silberman gives voice to this concern:
Just because a computer is not running Windows doesn’t mean that it’s broken.
By autistic standards, the 'normal' brain is easily distractible, is obsessively social, and suffers from a deficit of attention to detail and routine. Thus people on the spectrum experience the neurotypical world as relentlessly unpredictable and chaotic, perpetually turned up too loud and full of people who have little respect for personal space.
The main reason why the Internet was able to transform the world in a single generation is that it was specifically built to be 'platform agnostic.' The Internet doesn’t care if your home computer or mobile device is running Windows, Linux, or the latest version of Apple’s iOS. Its protocols and standards were designed to work with them all to maximize the potential for innovation at the edges. 
I work in a field that has taken me on an extraordinary learning experience. My work has changed me from conservative to liberal, from religious to irreligious, from ardency in health care systems to skeptic. Similarly, for those on the autism spectrum (think Asperger Syndrom (AS)), it is proper to question cultural pathways such as traditional approaches to schooling.
An inclusive school, for example, would feature designated quiet areas where a student who felt temporarily overwhelmed could avoid a meltdown. In classrooms, distracting sensory input—such as the buzzing of fluorescent lights—would be kept to a minimum. Students would also be allowed to customize their personal sensory space by wearing noise- reducing headphones, sunglasses to avoid glare, and other easily affordable and minimally disruptive accommodations. 
Many with AS are gifted in ways that defy conventional understanding. What about those deeper along the spectrum? Is it not logical to think their particular gifts, discrete and unexplored by science are just waiting for full flower? If this be true, can you imagine how those waiting must feel, dug in like ticks to their insular world?

Silberman illustrates with a story:
In recent years, a psychiatrist at the University of MontrĂ©al, Laurent Mottron, has produced a series of groundbreaking studies on autism with the help of his principal collaborator, an autistic researcher named Michelle Dawson. She fulfills a number of essential functions in the lab, including keeping Mottron up to date with the state of the research in the field ('She reads everything and forgets nothing,' he says), vetting experimental designs for errors and subtle forms of bias, and advocating for higher scientific standards in the field overall. 'Many autistics, I believe, are suited for academic science,' Mottron wrote in Nature in 2011. ' believe that they contribute to science because of their autism, not in spite of it.' 
Hugo's physically gnarled Quasimodo hinted at the deeper emotive and physical gifts he possessed. When we understand autism does not need to be cured, but accepted, oh the discoveries we will make.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Newest Jim Crow

Almost a year ago I picked a jury in a Capital Murder. The State had waived the death penalty so jury selection was conducted as usually done in Texas state courts. The jury panel started at around 100 people, large by my county's usual felony metric. It took about 12 hours to seat the jury and alternates.

At the end of the jury selection, I was struck by two related things: African Americans, particularly African American men, were significantly underrepresented in the panel as a whole, and, second, the two female African Americans who had been in the strike zone were struck by the State.

My male African-American client was eventually convicted and sentenced to life without possibility of parole. I read the appellate brief filed in his direct appeal this week and both items were assigned points of error. This post is not really about the case. Instead, like an eye adjusting from a lighted room to darkness, it reminded me the longer you stay in the dark the better your focus.

That focus should be the lack of representation of African Americans on Texas criminal jury panels. The short and long term implications for a criminal justice system that promises but does not deliver a cross section of the community are dire. The deeper problem is African American populations within the community being isolated, and isolating themselves, from a criminal justice system that has steadily been locking them - particularly their men -  in prison.

There is an almost shameful lack of empirical data on the topic. Props to Chris Daniel, the District Clerk in Harris County, who wrote an article in the Houston Chronicle in 2012 that crunched some data collected from his office. The story can be found here. In it he writes:
It's worth taking another look at the racial/ethnic breakdown of the county's 18 and older population who are citizens (45 percent white, 26 percent Hispanic, 23 percent black and 5.3 percent Asian) and comparing these figures to the racial/ethnic breakdown of those who appear for jury service (59 percent white, 17 percent African-American, 16 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian). 
These two sets of figures indicate that African-Americans are slightly underrepresented among those who report for jury service (23 percent of population, 17 percent of those who appear at jury service) and Hispanics are underrepresented to a greater degree (26 percent of population, 16 percent of those at jury service). 
Daniel should be commended for collecting, collating and publishing the data. I do not, however, agree with his characterization of a 6% attrition rate from a 23% population total to be a "slight underrepresentation." In Harris County although African Americans make up about 1 in 4 residents, for every 10 summoned jurors, only between one and two showing up will be African American. I suspect that controlling that number for African American men would drive the figure significantly lower. This is not a "slight" underrepresentation.

This underrepresentation is accompanied and exacerbated by overrepresentation of white middle aged and older Harris County residents. In rural counties, or counties with lower African American populations (think suburbs and counties like mine), Daniel's numbers demonstrating this underrepresentation/overrepresentation phenomenon would probably be more pronounced.

Michele Alexander's groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow, explores some of what I write about but with a bigger canvas upon which to paint. Most of the debate, and her focus, centers on criminal justice disenfranchisement laws. However, the criminal laws that Alexander writes about directly impact jury panels from which juries are picked. It is these panels that are disproportionally sending African American men to prison. We can debate the merits of the penal laws being used to charge and send this population to prison. We can debate the larger issue of mass incarceration. What really cannot be debated is the jury panels creating the juries systematically sending African American men to prison are not a true cross section of the community.

The relative merits of these debates are lost on most African American men caught in the Texas felony gristmill. These mostly young black men take one look at the jury panels summoned for selection and see middle age white faces, to the exclusion of African American men. This contaminates their view of the system that is simultaneously locking and knocking them down. It perpetuates their arguments to people like them that they all are being victimized by a system that demands their subjugation.

It has become increasing hard for me to argue with them. Why should they play by rules when the people deciding to send them to prison, keeping them from voting and thereafter serving on a jury that would decide the future of people like them, look, talk and value things so differently? Right or not, they opt out of that system, refusing to play by those rules and by so doing establish a value system disconnected from the system that is locking them up in droves.

I cannot exclude the African American population from my rantings and ravings. They must show more motivation to show up and be counted. It pains me every time a African American summoned for jury duty slips the bailiff a note asking to be excused for a non-exemption reason. Unfortunately, the burden falls disproportionately, and unfairly to this population to show up and be counted. Until the new Jim Crow is confronted and racial politics is discussed openly and honestly, this affliction will persist, potentially fissuring us to a point of no return.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ranting About Pre-Trial Diversion in Brazos County TX

I listened to Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson discuss Possession of Marijuana (POM) and pre-trial diversion programs this week. Anderson was part of a panel taped in August at the State Bar of Texas Advanced Criminal Law Program. Anderson's most memorable comments concerned Harris County's First Chance Intervention Program - a pre-trial intervention program for Possession of Marijuana (POM) cases. Anderson's comments underscore the folly with which we handle POM in Brazos County Texas.

Anderson's justification for diverting POM to a non-criminal track? Try this on for size:
The program recognizes the principle that first-time offenders who commit low-level, non-violent offenses are often self-correcting, without the need for more formal and costly criminal justice intervention. It also frees up law enforcement, jail, prosecution and court resources that would otherwise be expended in the arrest and prosecution of the offender.
What about this is bad public policy? Anderson was even more persuasive when articulating the success of the program. She observed that law enforcement and a number of prosecutors were skeptical of the program when it first came online in October, 2014. A year later, Anderson says, initial skeptics have become believers. So much so that now all law enforcement agencies in Harris County are participating.

Law enforcement is critical because, as I understand the program, they determine eligibility on initial contact in the field. Once eligibility is determined, participants are cited and then released with instructions to contact Harris County pre-trial services within the time limits below.

Paying attention Brazos County? We need this program, or one modeled after it. In Brazos County there are currently somewhere between 50,000-60,000 college students. Many in this population love toking on marijuana yet are the very essence of the self correcting population of which Anderson speaks.

The following comes straight off the Program's above linked website. Eligibility for the Harris County program is as follows:
  • The individual is detained or arrested for possession of marijuana, 2 ounces or less;
  • Possesses sufficient identifying information;
  • Has no additional charges out of the instant detention/arrest (other than Class C tickets);
  • Has no outstanding warrants or holds (including Class C charges);
  • Has no criminal convictions as an adult (Class B offense or greater);
  • Has never received probation or deferred adjudication (Class B offense or greater);
  • Is not currently on bond, deferred adjudication or probation (Class B offense or greater);
  • Has not participated in this program or another pretrial intervention program.
This is what is required in the program:
Contact Pretrial Services within 3 business days of his/her arrest and schedule an intake appointment
        Appear at Pretrial Services for an intake interview and a short assessment
       Participate for 60 or 90 days*, during which time the offender must:
                    (1) Not break the law
                    (2) Pay a non-refundable $100 program fee (may be reduced or waived if indigent)
                    (3) Complete either 8 hours of community service or an 8-hour cognitive class*

                  *Program length (60 or 90 days) and program requirement (community service or                                 cognitive class) are determined at the intake interview

Think this is too light on program requirements? Make it more difficult, perhaps. The point is the merits of the program for Brazos County are identical to the merits in Harris County: Save law enforcement, court, prosecutor and probation office resources while saving defendants, who will be pulling the societal wagon in the near future, from a criminal record.

Want more data? Here are some statistics for Brazos County misdemeanor prosecutions for calendar year 2014. They are sourced from the Texas Office of Court Administration, and part of my blog post published. February, 2014. I have set out the POM new case filings in bold below:
Brazos County Jan. 1, 2014-Dec. 31, 2014:
New Cases Filed: DWI: 600 POM: 954 DWLI: 1033
Total of All New Cases Filed: 4,622
954 of a total of 4622 new cases filed in 2014 were POM cases. That means a little less than 1 of every 5 new misdemeanor filing in 2014 was a POM case. Admittedly, not every POM defendant would be eligible for the program. However, given Brazos County's college aged demographic it is probably a safe bet that over half (perhaps close to 75%) of those Brazos County defendants would be eligible using Harris County's eligibility criteria. Taking a conservative 50% POM diversion eligibility rate, this translates in a full 10% of the Brazos County misdemeanor docket disappearing overnight.

Wrap your head around that Brazos County Commissioners Court and County Attorney. Want significant taxpayer savings while achieving laudable public policy goals? It can be done in a matter of weeks.

Why not, Brazos County?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Death and Newly Renovated Kyle Field - UPDATED - Jury Award of $53M

UPDATE 02/11/2016: A Houston Chronicle story reports a Harris County civil district court jury awarded $53 million in total damages yesterday against the general contractor on the Kyle Field renovations project, Manhattan-Vaughn and a subcontractor, Lindamood Demolition. Money quote in the story from the Garcia family lawyer, Jason Gibson:
'From the very beginning, they (the defendants) were trying to pin this on the operator - the person who died,' Gibson said. 'They never accepted any responsibility.'
Expect both of the tagged defendant's to appeal hoping to be bailed out of this large plaintiff's verdict.

ORIGINAL POST: The newly renovated Kyle Field was christened last night. More than 100,000 people stood, watched and yelled as Texas A&M steamrolled an overmatched Ball State University team. All is well with with Aggies football - at least as of this week. I watched the football game on ESPNU and the panoramas provided by the network from inside Kyle Field were impressive indeed.

Amongst the hoopla and backslapping, I remembered Angel Garcia. Angel was killed December 3, 2013 while working on the early stages of the project. Allen Reed of The Bryan College Station Eagle wrote about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) investigative findings in May 2014. Reed's story tells about the needless tragedy in clinical, concise detail:
The OSHA investigation states that Garcia was operating the skid-steer loader to support a 3,340-pound concrete stub while a Texas Cutting & Coring employee used a circular saw to cut the stub from its support column. The stub overloaded the skid-steer and tipped it and its driver over a ramp wall. Garcia was ejected from the machine after it tumbled over the edge and fell four stories. He was taken to St. Joseph hospital in Bryan, where he died from his injuries.
Angel was working for a sub-contractor named Lindamood Demolition when he died. Here is what Reed wrote concerning the blameworthiness OSHA placed at the feet of both Lindamood and Texas Cutting and Coring:
OSHA has charged Irving-based Lindamood Demolition Inc. and Round Rock-based Texas Cutting & Coring with willful violations -- ones committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.  
I cannot help but suspect, even without substantiation, that the rush to finish with the Kyle Field renovations before the 2015 college football season was felt downstream by the sub-contractors providing labor and materials to the project.

Garcia's family filed a lawsuit months before the OSHA finding were made public. The case is still pending in Harris County state district court and is set for trial in November, 2015. The documents in the case are public record. With a relatively simple sign up, you can read the filings in the case yourself through the Harris County District Clerk's office website. The filed documents take awhile to sort through, but they paint a disturbing picture on several levels.

Suffice to say that our worker's compensation system is screwed up. Angel's death and revelations published this week by the Texas Tribune of the "pay to play" arrangement between the Travis County District Attorney's office and the state's largest workers' compensation insurer just illustrate the depth of how twisted the system has become.

But this post is not about Texas Workers' Compensation. It is about Angel. His name is more appropriate now.

Kyle Field is home of the 12th Man. The story of the 12th Man is familiar to all Aggies. The story is meant to illustrate the camaraderie and solidarity of Aggies. It is the bond each Aggie has to another. Here is hoping there is room in that celebration for Angel Garcia and the family he left behind.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Kim Davis and Jailhouse Conversion

Kim Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk who has been jailed until she will issue same sex marriage licenses, is a person of conscious. I have read several news stories essentially calling her a hypocrite because she has been married four times. Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon.com, however, got it right. Davis' marriages occurred before she was saved. Davis' previous life, full of sin and sadness, gives her new life the higher ground to take a moral stand.

I would no more question Kim Davis' conversion and the Grace she believes God has shown her than I would the many I have experienced in jails and prisons who have found the same salvation. Often called "jailhouse converts" these men and women have some of the deepest faith I have known. 

Karla Faye Tucker is a good example. Tucker was a turning point, I believe, in the death penalty debate. It can, and was, argued that Tucker became a flashpoint on the death penalty for reasons other than her jailhouse conversion: Being photogenic, white, and female certainly did not hurt, but Tucker's born again faith was key. 

Just like Tucker became a sort of martyr for the death penalty abolitionist movement, Kim Davis, with the willing support of her Liberty Counsel lawyers, seems bound and determined to be a martyr for anti-same sex marriage. 

So be it. 

Like Karla Tucker, Kim Davis should render into Caesar what is Caesar's and without legal complaint. 

Karla Faye Tucker walked into the death chamber unbowed, strong in her faith, but knowing she was being punished for violating man's law, not God's. I am sure Tucker believed man's law was wrong, at the cost of her life, but she understood who was in charge. Davis still maintains she should be allowed to avoid rendering to Cesar the service she signed on to perform.

Davis has several choices. She can perform her duty under the law or resign. Either course will result in her release from jail. Her other course of action is to sit in jail, without complaint, accepting the legal consequence of her moral stand. 

If this is not right, then what I have told all my jailhouse converts, and have heard judges tell jailhouse converts is not true: "I am happy you have found salvation. But this State requires you be punished according to our law, and not the law of God."