Page Two

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The question, for now at least, really is not whether or not Lacresha Murray is guilty. The question is, was she treated fairly? The medical examiner, the police, the district attorney - they all work for Lacresha Murray; did they do right by her? Read Jordan Smith's exhaustive piece on the case this issue. It doesn't answer the question of guilt or innocence, but it raises any number of troubling and so far unanswered questions about the handling of the case. I'm not going to go into extensive detail - read the story. Suspicion narrowed to Lacresha Murray in the death of Jayla Belton after the medical examiner announced that the baby had suffered a death-dealing blow right before her passing. This narrowed the possibility to three suspects of whom Murray was the most likely. Her defense, however, found two reputable medical examiners who suggest a different reading of the circumstances, ones that could raise other possible scenarios. The lack of a thorough autopsy proved to be the most devastating of the ways the system failed Murray.

But, in any case, based on the medical examiner's findings, the police narrowed their search to the Murray household, eliminating other suspects. They also spoke to her for over two hours without Murray having any legal representation, though the questions make it clear that they assumed she was guilty. Although the consequence of this testimony is arguable, Murray should have been treated with more respect and consideration. The concentration on her - the assumption that she was guilty and that the object of the investigation was to prove this - was another failure of the system for Murray.

There seems to be an array of possibilities for what actually happened. Even in the worst case scenario, we have an 11-year-old without a significant history of violence and with some learning difficulties beating on and killing a crying baby. This is what the police and district attorney's office believe and presented as the most likely scenario. This is the version that earned Murray two convictions. But is "most likely" really a sound basis for a conviction, especially when the defendant is a child? There also seem to be a legitimate range of other possible explanations for what happened, including Murray's innocence. It certainly appears that the focus on her, as suspect and defendant, superseded the quest for truth.

It is easy, from a distance, to criticize the performance of those who are in the trenches day to day, like the police, the district attorney, and the medical examiner. When our staff talked to District Attorney Ronnie Earle, he suggested that we were enablers whose doubts would help keep Murray in denial. But when talking about a now 14-year-old girl, it seems to me that the first step in this process should be eliminating all of those doubts, not achieving a conviction.

I was out of town for the Michael Bertin/Storyville explosion but I must take some of the heat. It is Chronicle policy to include a review of a book or CD if we are profiling the creators. Also, general Chronicle policy is to have another writer review the work than the one who did the story; there is usually little disparity between the review and the feature. This time, the disparity existed, but there was nothing unusual about the placement; that is a standard design for a feature/review combination.

Our friend, Dale Watkins, one of Austin's most famous and feared doormen, passed away last week after a brief battle with cancer. Over the decades and thousands of shows, Watkins worked behind the scenes, and achieved not just a place in Austin music history but in three generations of clubgoers' memories. Watkins was a true professional - thank god we were on mostly good terms. He will be missed.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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