Mosley vs. Mosley: Reagan Case Takes a Sad Turn

Wrongful-death settlement leads Ortralla Mosley's parents to the courthouse

Ortralla Mosley's mother, Carolyn Mosley,  at Marcus McTear's pretrial hearing
Ortralla Mosley's mother, Carolyn Mosley, at Marcus McTear's pretrial hearing (Photo By Jana Birchum)

With less than a month to go before the anniversary of her daughter's murder, Carolyn Mosley is back in court, answering ex-husband Harrell Mosley's claim that he is entitled to part of the money she won from the wrongful death suit filed after 15-year-old Ortralla Mosley was stabbed at Reagan High School. According to documents filed in Travis Co. probate court, Harrell Mosley contends that "all or part" of the $300,000 Carolyn Mosley received in settling the suit belongs not to Carolyn, but to their daughter's estate, in which he has a half interest.

Ortralla Mosley was murdered on March 28 by her ex-boyfriend, 16-year-old Marcus McTear, who pleaded "true" (the juvenile-court equivalent of "guilty") to the crime and received a 40-year determinate sentence. In July, Carolyn Mosley filed a wrongful death suit against Marcus' parents, Dorothy and Joseph McTear, claiming they bore partial responsibility for Ortralla's death because they knew their son had a troubled and sometimes violent history with his girlfriends, and yet failed to "supervise, control, and discipline" him.

Carolyn Mosley has also filed a $23.2 million suit in federal court against Austin ISD under Title IX, the federal education-code statute against gender discrimination, which can be used to hold schools liable for student-on-student harassment. That case is still pending, but it's the federal claim that appears to have prompted Harrell Mosley's intervention in the case – in part, perhaps, so that he may join the suit. According to divorce records, Carolyn Mosley had full custody and was designated sole conservator for Ortralla's affairs. Although he paid some child support, she said her ex had little contact with or knowledge of Ortralla. Still, Carolyn Mosley's role as sole conservator is no longer legally relevant after Ortralla's death, in part because Ortralla died without a will – meaning whatever estate she may have left must be split between heirs, in this case 50-50 between her parents.

At issue is whether Harrell Mosley is, as a parent heir, entitled to a portion of the $300,000 settlement Carolyn Mosley got from the McTears. In documents filed with the court, Harrell Mosley charges that the settlement was paid not only on Carolyn Mosley's individual claim, but also to Ortralla's estate – meaning he deserves some money. According to his affidavit, he found out about the wrongful death suit in October, after it was settled, and was "upset" about Carolyn having received the money. "For a long period of time" before Ortralla's death the girl had been living with a friend, he charged, "and I felt that my ex-wife did not deserve any money for the death of my daughter," so he hired an attorney, "to discover what my ex-wife had done."

On Jan. 31, Carolyn and her attorney Sergei Kachura visited him at home in Corsicana, he said, asking that he sign a "waiver" of his rights to Ortralla's estate in connection with the federal suit; he refused to sign. On Feb. 4, he filed suit in probate court seeking to restrain his ex-wife from spending any of the money and to get an accounting of what she has spent.

Carolyn Mosley said her ex was never available for Ortralla while she was alive and has only surfaced in an attempt to cash in on her death. She is offended by his claim that Ortralla wasn't living with her and by the underlying assertion that she was a bad parent. Harrell's lawyers "didn't investigate any of his claims," she said. "He hadn't even seen [Ortralla] in the two years before her death." Carolyn Mosley said she brought the wrongful death suit on her own and that Kachura never said anything about settlement money for Ortralla's estate. (At press time, Kachura had not returned calls seeking comment; Harrell Mosley's attorney, Frances Bennett, also declined comment on the case or on her "client's position" on the issues at hand.)

Either way, the settlement money is gone. After paying Kachura (who took the case on contingency and got a 40% cut once the case settled – $120,000 – most of which has now been placed in court registry, pending the outcome of the case), Carolyn Mosley says, she did exactly what Ortralla would've wanted her to do: help others in need. She says she gave more than $138,000 to friends and family with financial problems and to needy families during the holidays. In short, if Harrell Mosley's claim succeeds, it may be as good as trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip (unless, of course, the federal suit bears fruit).

Carolyn Mosley says that the legal actions she's taken have not been motivated by monetary gain. "I wish somebody would just wake me up and tell me it's all been a bad dream," she said of the past year. "Better yet, I wish [Ortralla] would wake me up and say, 'Mama, you've been sleeping all day.' I would welcome that."

Ultimately, whether she had the right to sue on her own and to get the full amount of the settlement or whether she had a duty to Ortralla's estate or to her ex-husband – and if so, what that means – will be up to Probate Judge Guy Herman. "It's very technical, and I don't know yet what the law has to say about all this," he said.

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