Two Men Are Arrested over a Slaying and Beheading in Arlington

By Peek & Toland on February 22, 2018

Most crimes are run-of-the-mill and involve theft or the loss of property. However, some crimes are so extreme they send shockwaves through a community. Recently, Arlington was reeling from a slaying and beheading in the city.

A report in The Star-Telegram said the second suspect wanted in connections with the killings of two people in Arlington was arrested in Fort Worth in September.

The two victims were found buried in a shallow grave in Arlington. One of them had a severed head.

Police described 28-year-old Hector “El Cholo” Acosta-Ojeda, as armed and “extremely dangerous.” He was booked into the Arlington Jail in September 2017.

Police make arrests over slaying and beheading in Arlington

Slaying and beheading reported in Arlington

The Star-Telegram reported 17-year-old Iris Chirinos, 17, was identified as one of the people in a shallow grave in Burton Drive in Arlington. Chirinos died from multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office.

Authorities did not release the identity of a man whose body was found buried along with Chirinos, a former Sam Houston High School student who dropped out of school earlier this year, according to reports.

Witnesses suggested the body belonged to Chirinos’ boyfriend, known as “Diablo.”

Police found the bodies two days after the discovery of a severed head and a note near a walking trail in a wooded area west of East Sanford and Truman streets. The head was thought to belong to Diablo.

Police also arrested Mariano Sanchez-Pina, 18, on suspicion of murder over the killings. He was later transferred to the Tarrant County Jail where bail was set at $50,000 on a murder charge and $1,000 on a drug possession charge. Acosta-Ojeda was also booked into the Arlington Jail.

Media reports stated investigators tracked Acosta-Ojeda to a Fort Worth home where U.S. marshals arrested him without incident.

Violent crimes of this nature shock members of communities in Texas and elsewhere. They also carry heavy sentences and the prospect of capital punishment in some cases. If you have been charged with a violent crime, please call our Texas criminal defense lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

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Man Found Guilty of 2015 Stabbing Attack in Travis County

By Peek & Toland on January 8, 2018

A man has been convicted of a fatal stabbing attack in Travis County in 2015 after failing to convince a jury they had the wrong suspect.

Christopher Harris was convicted of the crime in August 2017, reported the American-Statesman.

The victim was Byron Roberson, a single father who opened up two spare bedrooms in his Pflugerville home to people who needed a place to go to get their lives back on track.

The Statesman reported how Christopher Harris testified during his murder trial in the summer that the real killer was an intruder that he didn’t know.

Two other men at the house identified Harris as the attacker. No motive was established for the crime.

Christopher Harris was convicted of stabbing attack

Man was convicted of stabbing attack

Travis County prosecutors said the attack on Robertson was completely unprovoked. Two surviving witnesses to the attack included including Roberson’s adult son, who identified 30-year-old Harris, as the assailant from the witness stand during the trial.

Diamond Robertson said he was “one hundred percent positive” that Harris was the killer.

The two men were also injured in the attack in 2015.

During the trial, Diamond Robertson’s friend, Reshard Rogers stared at the defendant. The 22-year-old Rogers said Harris was undoubtedly the person who stabbed Robertson four or five times with a knife.

DNA evidence — in particular Harris’ blood on the victim’s clothing — further convinced the jury as to his guilt. Harris faced a life sentence.

At the time of the killing, Harris was renting a room from Roberson, an outgoing cable television salesman.

Although Harris was linked to the murder scene by DNA and eyewitnesses, Texas has a long history of jailing suspects for crimes committed by others.

One of the highest profile cases was that of Michael Moreton, who was wrongly convicted of killing his wife in 1986.

Christine Morton was attacked and killed at their home in Williamson County, close to Austin. Michael Morton was at out at work at the time. It didn’t stop him being a suspect.

Morton was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison in a case in which prosecutors withheld evidence, reported CNN.

He was released in 2011 and later exonerated after years of battling. Morton’s attorneys got a bandana found near the crime scene tested for DNA. It contained the blood of Christine Morton and hair and the DNA of another man — a convicted felon named Mark Norwood.

Norwood killed Christine Morton and Debra Baker, another woman in the Austin area, in similar circumstances less than two years later.

If you have been charged with a serious crime like murder, it’s vital to hire experienced legal representation. Contact our Austin criminal defense lawyers here.

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The Distinction between Murder and Manslaughter in Texas

By Peek & Toland on May 5, 2017

Homicides occur with an alarming regularity in Texas’ cities and locations such as Austin and San Antonio have seen a recent spike. However, not all homicides are treated the same. If you are convicted of a killing you may be sentenced to murder or the lesser offense of manslaughter.

The key difference between murder and manslaughter in Texas is the issue of intent.

A crime is charged as a murder when a life is taken with malice. However, a manslaughter charge can be brought if a victim is killed in the absence of malice or through recklessness.

The distinction between murder and manslaughter

Killings may be murders or manslaughters

Manslaughter Laws in Texas

The State of Texas defines manslaughter as “a person recklessly [causing] the death of an individual.” When a prosecutor brings a manslaughter charge he or she must have enough evidence to prove the offender committed manslaughter beyond all reasonable doubt.

There is no requirement to prove maliciousness or premeditation as in the case of murder. The only requirement is to prove recklessness or carelessness.

Many states have a distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. However, Texas lacks this distinction. It recognizes a series of different types of manslaughter, namely:

  1. Intoxication manslaughter: The killing of another person while drunk. These offenses usually involve driving.
  2. Vehicular manslaughter: The killing of another while the offender is driving a vehicle.
  3. Criminally negligent homicide: This charge is slightly different because it can be brought if the offender was negligent rather than reckless although there is often a gray area.

In a well-known Texas case, a defendant was convicted of criminally negligent homicide when he heard a commotion outside his house, shot at what he thought was a dog and killed a person.

Manslaughter charges in Texas are second-degree felonies. On conviction, you can face a two to 20 years in a prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Murder in Texas

Not all murders are equal. The crime is divided into first and second-degree murder in many states, In Texas, there is a distinction between “capital murder” and “murder.”

There are certain defined criteria for capital murder which carries the death penalty in Texas. You can read more here.

You can be charged with capital murder for.

1 The killing of a police officer or a firefighter

2 A killing for hire

3 Murdering someone while being in prison

4 Killing multiple people.

You can receive the death penalty for capital murder but you may also be charged with life in prison with no possibility of parole.

A murder charge without capital implications is a first-degree felony. If convicted, you can receive from 5 to 99 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Although intent is the factor that distinguishes between murder and manslaughter, you don’t necessarily need to have intended to kill a victim to be charged with murder.

If the defendant intended to cause serious bodily harm or to commit a felony other than manslaughter that resulted in death, he or she can be charged with murder.  A common example is an armed robbery that goes wrong and the victim is shot dead. Even though the robber may not have intended to kill the victim when he robbed a store or another premises, the fact he was committing a felony will result in a murder charge.

Murder and manslaughter are extremely serious charges. If you have been charged with one of these offenses, it’s vital to hire an experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Priest is Arrested in Cold Case Investigation into Texas Beauty Queen Killing

By Peek & Toland on November 8, 2016

Cold case investigations can uncover evidence years after a crime. But many become dormant.

This was clearly not the case in the probe into the killing of a schoolteacher and beauty queen in a Texas border town. A former priest was charged with murder this year 56 years after the death of Irene Garza.

The dramatic new development in the cold case investigation was reported in People magazine.

The killing shocked the town of McAllen in 1960. Garza, a 25-year-old schoolteacher and beauty queen, was raped and murdered. Reports put the last place she was seen alive as Sacred Heart Catholic Church. She went to confession at the church the night before Easter.

As experienced Austin murder defense lawyers, we represent many people who are charged with homicides. Cold cases raise a number of evidential issues because the evidence is often very old and witnesses may no longer be alive or be able to recall the events.

In February, former priest John Feit was arrested for Garza’s murder. The ex-priest who is now in his eighties is incarcerated in a Texas jail with his bail set at $750,000. Feit was a visiting priest at Sacred Heart in 1960. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder.

The article in People highlighted five key details that led to the arrest of Feit this year.

The article said the priest allegedly talked about the crime with two other priests around the time of the homicide. Police said Dale Tacheny, a retired monk, called them back in 2002. He said a priest he had counseled more than 40 years earlier said he suffocated a woman who he did not identify.

A priest was arrested in the cold case murder of a beauty queen
Father Joseph O’Brien, a second priest, was said to be aware of the killing and of the alleged guilt of Feit who departed the priesthood in 1972.

This information raises as many questions as it answers. For example, if police had this information in 2002, why did they not act on it then?

Family of Slain Beauty Queen Kept Cold Case Alive

The People article claimed Feit was arrested for an assault on another woman at the church. The article said he was arrested for the attempted rape of a woman in a nearby town. The jury failed to reach a verdict and the priest was fined $500 and released from jail after pleading no contest to aggravated assault, the article claimed.

The article also alluded to scratches on Felt’s hands. He said he had counseled Garza on the evening of the crime but then went on to hear the confessions of other parishioners. He said he broke his glasses, accounting for scratches on his hands.

The People article claimed there was other evidence at the murder scene that pointed the finger of suspicion at Feit. Garza’s car was near the church while a long black cord, allegedly belonging to Feit, was found near her body in a waterway.  Relatives of the popular beauty queen and teacher kept pressing police to keep the cold case alive.

The public is fascinated by cold cases and there are many TV shows about them. However, it can be tough for police and prosecutors to establish guilt after so many years. A DNA match is usually a breakthrough in cases that have been under investigation for decades.

However, even DNA has been discredited in recent years. Much of the evidence in the killing of Irene Garza seems to be circumstantial. However, in cold cases, investigators often come under pressure from family members of the victim.

If you are facing murder or manslaughter charges in Texas, you should contact an experienced Austin defense attorney as soon as possible. These charges carry very serious sentences of life in prison or even the death penalty. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Teen is Convicted of Murder of Iraqi Immigrant in Texas

By Peek & Toland on August 2, 2016

A jury in Dallas recently sentenced a teenager to 38 years in prison for the murder of an Iraqi immigrant as he went outside to take pictures of the first snow he had ever seen.

It was a crime that shocked the city of Dallas and one that appeared to demonstrate some of the hostility immigrants to the United States face.

However, prosecutors decided the killing was not a hate crime.

Teen is convicted of murder of Iraqi in Texas

A jury in Dallas convicted Nykerion Nealon, 19, of fatally shooting 36-year-old Ahmed al-Jumaili, in March 2015, reported Reuters. The Iraqi immigrant was standing in the parking lot of his apartment complex taking pictures of snow at the time. Murder is defined under Chapter 19 of the Texas Penal Code which we detail here.

The killing came just three weeks after the Iraqi arrived in the United States. Although the homicide was initially investigated as a hate crime, the authorities later concluded that Nealon did not know al-Jumaili’s ethnicity and may have killed him in retaliation for a shooting at his girlfriend’s apartment.

Nealon was 17 years old at the time of the killing. He ended up firing 14 rounds from an assault rifle. One of them struck al-Jumaili in the chest.

Advocates for immigrants said the crime illustrated some of the dangers newcomers face in the United States. Alia Salem, executive director of the Dallas branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said:

“Coming to this country for a new start, only to have it stripped away from them in such a horrible fashion, has been unimaginable.”

Hate crimes in Texas are defined in The Texas Hate Crimes Act, Chapter 411.046 of the Texas Government Code.

These are crimes that are defined as “motivated by prejudice, hatred, or advocacy of violence.” Typically these are crimes in which the offender demonstrates prejudice based on race, religion or sexual orientation.

The Texas Department of Public Safety recorded 243 hate crimes in the state in 2007. Race forms the largest proportion of these crimes – more than 50 percent – and the highest number are anti-black.

Hate crimes against Muslims rose dramatically after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and also rose after 2009, according to Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.

There can often be a gray area between a crime of violence and a hate crime. In some cases prosecutors will wrongly label an offense a hate crime.

If you are charged with an offense of this nature, it’s important to contact an experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Call us today at (512) 474-4445.

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Why Mexican Woman Won’t Face Death Penalty over Alleged Killing of Dallas Dentist

By Peek & Toland on June 14, 2016

A Mexican woman was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list briefly last month before she was captured and charged with the murder of a Dallas dentist. Even if she is convicted she won’t face the death penalty.

Mexican authorities captured Brenda Delgado, 33 at a house in Torreón, in Coahuila state last month. She was wanted in connection with the killing of a pediatric dentist in a parking garage.

Prosecutors allege Delgado’s jealousy led to the fatal shooting of dentist Kendra Hatcher at a parking garage in Dallas last year.

FBI will not call for death penalty for Brenda Delgado

The Mexican attorney general’s office said Brenda Delgado, 33, was captured at a house in Torreón, in Coahuila state, reported CNN.  She was held at the Santa Martha Acatitla prison in Mexico City pending extradition proceedings.

Media reports said she was only the ninth woman to appear on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives list since it was set up in the 1950s.

The FBI offers rewards of around $100,000 for information leading to the capture of America’s most wanted fugitives.

Delgado was placed on the list at the start of April for allegedly plotted the death of Hatcher, who was dating her former boyfriend at the time. Investigators say she fled to Mexico after she arranged for accomplices to kill her love rival.

Death Penalty is Unlikely for Delgado

Although the crime could warrant execution if Delgado is found guilty, it appears she won’t face the death penalty. At a news conference before Delgado’s arrest, Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk said she could not seek the death penalty if Delgado was caught in Mexico and extradited to the United States because Mexico is opposed to it. Delgado faces a life sentence in prison if she is convicted.

Nevertheless, Mexico’s opposition to the death penalty has not stopped Texas executing Mexican nationals and those from other countries in recent years.

In 2014, Texas executed Edgar Arias Tamayo for the murder of a Houston police officer, despite what the Guardian newspaper described as an “international outcry and warnings that his death could damage relations between the US and Mexico.”

In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that about 50 Mexicans who were being held on death row in the US had not been properly informed of their consular rights.  The court ordered the US to carry out a review and reconsider each conviction and sentence.

George W Bush, the president at the time of the ruling, said every state should comply but Texas successfully argued before the US supreme court in four years later that the presidential order was not binding because it was not backed up with legislation from Congress.

If you are facing a murder charge in Texas, the consequences will be very severe. It’s important to hire experienced Austin criminal defense attorneys.

Our lawyers are geared to help immigrants who are charged with crimes and may not understand their rights. Contact our office so as we can inform you of your rights at (512) 474-4445.

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