Naked City

Lacresha Murray suit proceeds

Barbara Taft, a supporter of Lacresha Murray, holds a picture of Murray at a 1998 protest.
Barbara Taft, a supporter of Lacresha Murray, holds a picture of Murray at a 1998 protest. (Photo By Jana Birchum)

On Dec. 2, federal District Judge Sam Sparks declined to dismiss the lawsuit brought against local authorities by former capital murder defendant Lacresha Murray. Sparks ruled that there is sufficient evidence that Travis Co. prosecutors and APD investigators in 1996 may have conspired to violate Murray's Fifth Amendment rights to allow the case to go to trial.

In 1996, 11-year-old Lacresha Murray was convicted of "injury to a child" for the death of 2-year-old Jayla Belton. Prosecutors claimed Murray stomped on Belton at the Northeast Austin home of Murray's grandparents, where the Murray family was babysitting the toddler. In 1999, the 3rd Court of Appeals overturned Murray's conviction, on the grounds that police had illegally obtained a confession from Murray. Indeed, APD detectives Ernie Pedraza and Al Eells interrogated Murray for 21/2 hours without the knowledge or consent of her guardians, without contacting an attorney to represent her, and without taking her before a magistrate, as apparently required by state law. Murray was finally released from the Texas Youth Commission in 2000, and in 2001 Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle dropped all the charges against her (see "Justice Denied?" Aug. 7, 1998).

Last year Murray filed suit in federal court for a host of violations, including a charge that prosecutors Stephanie Emmons and Dayna Blazley, along with Pedraza, Eells, and Sgt. Hector Reveles, conspired to conduct her interrogation in a manner that they knew would violate her Fifth Amendment rights. While most of Murray's original claims have been dismissed, Sparks last week denied part of a motion for summary judgment brought by attorneys for the prosecutors and police, ruling that there is enough evidence to proceed with Murray's Fifth Amendment claims -- giving the defendants a chance to prove that they acted in "good faith," he wrote. In his ruling, Sparks pointed to a memo written by Reveles, in which the officer wrote that Murray's interrogation "was conducted with the full knowledge, advice and guidance from the Travis County DA's Office" -- an admission the judge found telling. "The interrogating officers knew ... Murray was a suspect in the murder, and the evidence suggests the officers sought the advice of prosecutors to figure out what steps they could take to interview her out of the presence of a lawyer, parent or other friendly adult to guarantee a confession."

On Dec. 4, attorneys for the police and prosecutors appealed Sparks' ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, indefinitely postponing the trial, which Sparks had set to begin Dec. 8.

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    News briefs from Austin, the region, and elsewhere.

    Naked City

    Wal-Mart and South River City Citizens deal to preserve Blunn Creek.

    Naked City

    The Texas Campaign for the Environment uncovers an illegal computer dump in Northeast Austin.
  • Naked City

    Steve Wolens and Teel Bivins join the queue exiting the Legislature.

    Naked City

    The FBI continues to use the RAVE Act as a bludgeon against drug-reform activists.

    Naked City

    Texas A&M decides to avoid affirmative action in admissions, raising ire from minority lawmakers.

    Naked City

    Boxed out

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 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.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
MORE Death Penalty
Death Watch: Madness and Forensics
Death Watch: Madness and Forensics
Two capital cases raise psychological and evidentiary issues

Jordan Smith, Oct. 4, 2013

Death Watch: Running Low on Poison
Death Watch: Running Low on Poison
The state of Texas has three executions' worth of pentobarbitol

Jordan Smith, Aug. 9, 2013

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
Musical chairs at Downtown HQ

May 9, 2014

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

capital punishment, Lacresha Murray, Sam Sparks, Austin Police Department, Travis County District Attorney's Office

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle