News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
ACLU HQ Bids Adieu
The American Civil Liberties Union last week announced that it will move its Texas headquarters from Austin to Houston in July. "Why Houston?" Executive Director Terri Burke wrote in an e-mail to the Chronicle. "The Bayou City is the nation's fourth largest and most visible city in Texas. Such a move will be both symbolic and functional." And, she wrote, "the 10-county metropolitan area is simultaneously a laboratory for every imaginable civil rights violation that occurs in Texas." Indeed. The organization will also be increasing its statewide presence by opening several new offices, including one in Brownsville. With 20,000 members, the ACLU of Texas is the eighth largest affiliate of the national organization that focuses on protecting "fundamental rights and liberties embodied in the U.S. Constitution, state and federal law," reads a press release. The organization will keep its Austin office for legislative and policy work, Burke wrote. "Austin will remain the focus of much of our work, particularly in the legislature. Our relationships at the State Capitol will continue to be the backbone of many of our efforts," she continued. "Our Central Texas volunteers are among the most active and we see their dedication and commitment as a model for involvement throughout the state." – Jordan Smith
Room for Second Place
Though he lost his Election Day bid to remain on the 353rd Judicial District Court bench, Judge Jeff Rose has scored another gig, on the 3rd Court of Appeals. Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to the seat vacated by Judge Alan Waldrop, who resigned abruptly in midterm. This is Rose's second bench appointment; in 2009, Perry appointed him to the 353rd, after the death of Judge Scott Ozmun. Rose, a Republican, ran to remain on that seat but lost to Dem challenger Tim Sulak. Rose told the Chronicle earlier this year that he believes politics end at the courthouse door and lamented that Texas judges are forced to run partisan election campaigns. Still, his appointment to the 3rd Court means the influential bench – which covers appeals in 24 counties, appeals from state agencies, and high-profile public corruption cases – is now firmly Republican-controlled, with four GOP judges (Bob Pemberton, David Puryear, Rose, and the newly elected Melissa Goodwin) and just two Dems (Chief Justice Woodie Jones and Judge Diane Henson). – J.S.
State's Case Hung by a Hair
Yet again, evidence suggests that Texas may have executed an innocent man. Claude Jones was put to death in December 2000 for the murder of liquor store owner Allen Hilzendager. The key evidence connecting Jones to the crime was a hair found in the store where Hilzendager was murdered, and an expert testified that the hair was a visible match to Jones. It was never subjected to DNA testing, however – until now. The results of newly performed testing shows the hair was in fact Hilzendager's, not Jones', meaning there was no evidence linking Jones to the crime. Jones, who proclaimed his innocence until his death, had asked for a stay of execution in order to have the hair tested, but was denied; the execution memo provided to then-Gov. George W. Bush by his general counsel's office made no mention of Jones' request for the testing. The evidence was set to be destroyed until the Innocence Project and The Texas Observer filed suit to get access. "The DNA results released today may not prove that Jones was innocent, but they do raise serious questions about whether the prosecution's case was strong enough to present to a jury and the decision to seek the death penalty in the first place," said former Texas Gov. Mark White in a press statement last week. "No matter what your opinion of the death penalty, I hope we can all agree that it should only be used when the state is absolutely sure that the right person has been convicted." (See the DNA analysis report online here.) – J.S.