Off the Desk:
Blame it on the weather: The unpopular proposal to reopen Holly Power Plant units 1 and 2 for emergency use during the summer will be up for discussion 5:30pm Tuesday, Feb. 9, at Town Lake Center. The two units were taken out of service in 1998 as part of the plan to close Holly in 2005, but Austin Energy officials say they might be needed for backup duty and advocate spending $1.5 million to return them to working condition. Councilmember Gus Garcia will host the meeting...
Austin has been named one of 10 Best Cycling Cities by Bicycling magazine. The annual survey examines cycling infrastructure, such as bike lanes and racks, as well as local advocacy efforts and the overall "cycling culture." Austin -- ranked sixth -- was lauded for its Yellow Bike Program, employment of a bicycle coordinator, and its 110 miles of bike lanes. Montreal, Portland, and Chicago were cited as tops for two-wheeling. Boston, Tampa, and Las Vegas made the magazine's 'worst' list ...
The news that Longhorn Pipeline Partners must conduct an environmental review before it can ship gasoline along a 48-year-old pipeline that runs through South Austin has prompted a victory party/town meeting at 4pm Sunday at Williams Elementary, 500 Mairo St. City officials and South Austin neighbors opposed to reactivating the aging line say the meeting is largely to gather information to submit for the review, but a bit of celebrating is promised. For more info call 795-3565 ...
The Working Stiff Journal is hosting a forum with Mike Parker, author of Democracy Is Power, on Friday, Feb. 5, 7pm, at the AFL-CIO building at 11th & Lavaca. -- L.T.
Written on the Body?
Add a mutilated corpse to the mystery of the missing atheists. On Sunday, the San Antonio Express-News reported that a headless, handless corpse found in Dallas on October 2, 1995 -- three days after the atheists were last heard from -- has been identified as that of Danny Fry, a Florida man who moved to Austin in mid-1995.
There is no proof that Fry's murder has any connection to the disappearance of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Jon Garth Murray, and Robin Murray O'Hair. However, his connections with another man, David Waters, are curious. Waters, a former employee of the Murray-O'Hairs, contacted The Austin Chronicle last October. He was eager to share information which he believed proved that the three atheists had been planning to leave Austin several years before they finally disappeared. However, when it came time to actually copy the documents, Waters refused to let the Chronicle have access to them (see "Abducted by Aliens," Nov. 20, 1998).
In June 1995, Waters, a former employee at American Atheist General Headquarters, pled guilty to theft. Court records show that in 1994, Waters took $54,000 from the atheists' bank accounts. After pleading guilty, Waters was put on probation and ordered to pay restitution to the atheist group. According to the representatives of American Atheists and court records, Waters is behind in his restitution payments. Court records also show Waters was previously convicted for murder in 1965 in IIlinois, as well as battery and forgery (also in Illinois).
The San Antonio Express-News reported that Fry's family members in Florida say Fry moved to Austin in July of 1995 to work on an unnamed money-making project with Waters. Phone records obtained by the San Antonio paper show that Fry and Waters appear to have been in close contact. Fry's phone bills show that in August of 1995, 51 phone calls were made from Waters' apartment in North Austin to Fry's home in Florida. The phone records also show two calls to Fry's Florida home from Waters' apartment on September 30, 1995, two days before Fry's corpse was found in southeastern Dallas County.
Waters, who just a few months ago was seeking publicity and agreed to sit for a photograph, did not return phone calls from the Chronicle this week. In October, Waters said he had never been questioned by police about Fry's disappearance. Waters also said he didn't know what had happened to Fry and that Fry's "stopover here was one of many on his itinerary. He has his own legal problems."
Fry's corpse was identified by using DNA samples obtained from Fry's brother, son, and ex-wife. The probability that the corpse is Fry's was given as 99.99 %.
Madalyn Murray O'Hair's son, William J. Murray, says the discovery of the body should be cause for an intensive investigation. But he doesn't want the Austin Police Department involved. "The real break is that there's a law enforcement body involved and it's not the Austin PD," said Murray. He said the APD is "covering up incompetence. They blew it. They have three well-known people that were probably murdered in their jurisdiction."
Murray theorizes that it was Fry who was seen with his brother, Jon Garth Murray, in San Antonio shortly before both men disappeared. "They haven't made a definite identification, but he certainly fit the description of the man who was with my brother," said Murray. "Danny Fry was known to have been with the O'Hairs in the Warren Apartments in San Antonio. If that is not a prima facie clue to the police department that a crime has been committed, then I don't know what is. Who do they say murdered Fry? That Madalyn Murray O'Hair murdered Fry? That a 76-year-old woman decapitated Danny Fry?"
In an editorial Wednesday, the San Antonio Express-News joined Murray in his criticism of the APD, saying the department should "forget about trying to save face and immediately launch a thorough investigation into the disappearance" of the atheists. While APD may or may not step up their efforts, sources close to the investigation say that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is now working on the case.
APD spokesman Kevin Buchman says the information reported in the Express-News will be pursued "like we would any other lead that we receive." However, Buckman pointed out that Det. Stephen Baker, who had been handling the case, is no longer working on it. The case has been assigned to another detective.
While the Austin police may have been less than zealous in their investigation, the Dallas County Sheriff's Department is promising a complete investigation. "We have identified Danny Fry and now we are trying to find out who is responsible," said department spokesman Ed Spencer. "The possibilities are intriguing, but beyond that, it's not appropriate to speculate about where the investigation might go."
One final oddity about Fry and Waters: According to the Express-News, Danny Fry's brother, Bob Fry, received a letter from Danny in 1995 stating if he didn't return by a certain date, then "something serious had happened. I should contact the authorities and bring in Dave Waters name, that Dave Waters planned what we did." After his brother disappeared, Bob Fry called Waters and told him about the letter. The next evening, Waters and another man were on his doorstep in Florida, demanding the letter, Fry told the Express-News.
Waters' next probationary hearing before Magistrate Jim Coronado is scheduled for Feb. 24. -- R.B.
When approximately 200 protestors rallied on the South steps of the Capitol building last Saturday to draw attention to the James Byrd Hate Crime Bill(see "On the Lege," p.43), they were joined by many who want to add the Jan. 8 murder of 18-year-old transvestite D. Scott Fuller to the list of hate-related crimes in Texas. One of the bill's primary lobbying groups, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (LGRL), is grouping Fuller's murder with two other recent murders of African-American gay men in Texas City and the murders of approximately 25 gay men throughout Texas in the past year.
Dianne Hardy-Garcia, president of LGRL, believes that the news of Fuller's murder, alongside other recent national stories such as the murders of Matthew Shepard, a gay man in Laramie, Wyoming, and of James Byrd, an African-American man in Jasper, Texas, will convince the bill's detractors of its necessity. Hardy-Garcia points out that a strongly opposed bill in the conservative Wyoming legislature passed in the wake of Shepard's death and the national attention which resulted.
However, the Travis County prosecutor's office has not charged Fuller's murder as a hate crime, and has not yet released any information to characterize it as such. "We're not sure if it was a hate crime, and we all recognize that," says Hannah Riddering, president of the Austin chapter of the National Organization for Women, which co-sponsored Saturday's rally. "But there's a good possibility that it was, given that [Fuller] was a transvestite." Hardy-Garcia says that her group is not identifying the Fuller murder as a hate crime yet, but is keeping a close watch on the investigation because the brutality of the crime itself suggests hate-related violence.
Regardless of whether Fuller was killed as an act of hate, says Hardy-Garcia, LGRL and other gay rights groups are drawing attention to the case because it "typifies what happens in the worst-case scenario with gay youth. He had a terrible time in school and fell into all the traps that are really very present in the lives of young gay people: drugs and the street and dropping out of school. Gay youth are at higher risk than other groups and Scott was one of those kids who could not hide that he was gay, which put him at a very special risk." -- K.V.
Hate Is a Four-Letter Word
Two nights before Saturday's rally, civil rights activists from across the state participated in a forum at Town Lake Center, sponsored by the Austin Human Rights Commission to learn more about various challenges communities face regarding hate crimes, including information on the proposed James Byrd Jr. Act (see preceding item). Panelists said passage of the Byrd Act would help increase local awareness of hate crimes, and help law enforcement officials identify and prosecute hate-crime offenders as early and as rigidly as possible in hopes of deterring later more serious crimes, like the murder of Byrd. But LGRL's Dianne Hardy-Garcia said without a considerable amount of attention from the state officials, the hate crimes law will remain ineffectual: "Legislators' silence on this issue is the most powerful message of all. For us not to do something about hate crimes is the legacy of our past."
Crimes committed because of bias or prejudice have a broader, deeper psychological impact on the community, said Jonathan Bernstein, director of the Anti-Defamation League-Southwest Region, explaining the urgent need for the beefed up legislation. "Hate crimes could tear at the rich multicultural fabric of our community."
One area not addressed in the new legislation, but that presents a particular challenge in fighting hate crimes, said Bernstein, is the Internet. Bernstein said there are currently an estimated 200 to 300 sites promoting bias and prejudice on the Web. He cited a recent example of a University of Texas student who created a site from a campus computer lab titled the "Aryan Crusader" and displayed the words "Keep America White."
"Before, a hatemonger had to go to Kinko's and print out a bunch of fliers; now all one has to do is make a Web site," said Bernstein.
While Austin residents tend to think of their city as fairly progressive, in 1997 Austin reported more hate crimes in Austin than anywhere else in Texas: 52. The second highest number of cases -- 40 -- was reported in much larger Dallas. Lt. Shauna Jacobson of the Austin Police Department said that Austin's high number of reported hate-crime incidents is actually a positive sign that the APD is more capable of -- and more willing to -- identify hate crimes. While her fellow panelists agreed with Jacobson's conclusion, most agreed that lack of appropriate police training is just one of the many intrinsic flaws with the state's current hate-crimes law. -- T.T.