The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Beyond City Limits

Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, November 8, 2002, News

Giving Iran, Oman, and Iraq yet another run for their money, Texas was scheduled to execute James Colburn, a paranoid schizophrenic who stabbed and strangled 55-year-old Peggy Murphy in 1994. Colburn was arrested on the same day as the murder, after telling a neighbor to call the police because he had killed a woman. In his short and unhappy life, he has endured severe mental illness (including hallucinations and delusions), was raped at 17, tried to commit suicide at least 15 times, and spent seven years on death row. In considering Colburn's sentence, appeals courts rejected evidence that his mental illness made him incompetent to stand trial and that Haldol injections put him to sleep during the proceedings. "We need not determine the number of times Colburn fell asleep. ... Whether Colburn fell asleep once or slept through most of his trial is not dispositive of Colburn's competence," the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in May. -- L. A.

If state House Speaker Pete Laney survives to Speak another day, it won't be thanks to Farmers Insurance Group. R.A. Dyer of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Nov. 2 that the Farmers Employee and Agent PAC of Texas recently gave $150,000 to Texans for a Republican Majority, a group closely associated with Midland GOP Rep. Tom Craddick's effort to replace Laney in the next Lege. Temple Republican Rep. Dianne White Delisi, who sits on TRM's board, insisted that the group is "not a front" for Craddick, but Harvey Kronberg, editor of the political newsletter Quorum Report, told Dyer, "This a group that is more or less dedicated to Craddick being elected speaker ... by giving late money in competitive races." Said Dan Lambe, director of the consumer watchdog group Texas Watch: "Clearly, insurance companies feel like they have a friend in Tom Craddick." -- M.K.

As part of its efforts to abolish regional narcotics task forces in Texas, the ACLU of Texas has filed a class-action lawsuit against Robertson Co., its DA John Paschall, the city of Hearne, and several others over the actions of the South Central Narcotics Task Force, which the ACLU says unfairly targets blacks during its drug sweeps. Paschall denies the charge. In a November 2000 operation, 28 people -- 27 of whom were black -- were indicted for possessing or delivering cocaine. Paschall dismissed several cases after learning that a hired confidential informant was lying, yet told the Bryan-College Station Eagle he believes the accused were guilty. -- L.A.

John Laird, editorial page editor of the El Paso Times, recalls yet another reason for Texans to eulogize the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone. "Four years ago," wrote Laird on Sunday, "Paul Wellstone was one of the leaders in what at first appeared to be a futile battle to block a low-level radioactive waste dump in Sierra Blanca, 90 miles east of El Paso. In 1997, when state officials in Austin, Vermont, and Maine remained determined to use the small West Texas town for a radioactive waste dump, Wellstone asked, 'Is the proposed location of the dump in a poor community simply a coincidence? Was it chance that the dry, sparsely populated community in Texas tentatively chosen for the dump site is 66% Hispanic, with 39% of the people living below the poverty level?'" (The dump plan for Sierra Blanca was eventually defeated, and nuke-dumpers are now aiming at Andrews Co. or other West Texas sites.) Concludes Laird, "The genuine public servant is the man or woman who steps forward to help people who are not constituents ... because it's the right thing to do. You never know where your friends will come from, so you might as well be nice to everyone ... even people from Minnesota." -- M.K.

A harshly worded Oct. 21 letter written by longtime U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and signed by seven other reps condemned "scientific decision making ... being subverted by ideology" within the Bush administration. The letter charged that under Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, information related to safe sex and risk reduction has disappeared from HHS Web sites, including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Waxman says findings from the National Cancer Institute showing that abortions do not increase the risk of breast cancer have disappeared from the NIH Web site; also gone are a CDC-created Web site relating to safe sex among teenagers, along with a fact sheet on condom use. Waxman's letter asked for a response, along with a host of HHS-related info, by Oct. 30; aides say they haven't heard a peep from Thompson. A Web search reveals that only the breast cancer page has been restored; the information gurus at the Memory Hole have posted archived copies of the deleted information, and Waxman's letter, at -- Jordan Smith

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