Top 10 Criminal Justice Stories

Some died, some walked

Judge Sharon Keller's bench life was spared.
Judge Sharon Keller's bench life was spared. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

1) SANDERS SHOOTING EVERLASTING We posted the city-redacted portions of the KeyPoint Government Solutions report critical of the Austin Police Department (exit city attorney). City Council rejected the negotiated settlement of the Sanders family's civil rights suit – Judge Sam Sparks was not amused. APD officer-shooter Leonardo Quintana got canned for drunken driving, uncanned by an arbitrator, then canned again for something else. (And yet there's more: See "Top 10 Stories in the Sanders Shooting Fallout.")

2) SHOOTER PROMOTES GUNS UT math major Colton Tooley toted an AK-47 to campus, fired a few rounds, fled to the library, and killed himself – no known motive, but the incident did renew arguments over whether students should be allowed to carry weapons.

3) GRAVES FINALLY FREED! After nearly two decades, death row inmate Anthony Graves – falsely accused of murdering six people in Burleson County in 1992 – finally walked free. His conviction was overturned four years ago, and, overruling the original prosecutor, the current prosecutors dropped the charges in October.

4) POWELL EXECUTED After 32 years on death row for the murder of Austin Police Officer Ralph Ablanedo, onetime UT honors student David Lee Powell was executed. A contingent of Austin Police rented a bus to Huntsville to celebrate.

5) WILLINGHAM HEARING CENTERS A posthumous bid to clear Cameron Todd Willingham – executed for the alleged 1991 murder of his three children in a fire that experts now agree was not arson – was put on hold when a Corsicana prosecutor appealed to the Third Court to halt proceedings in District Judge Charlie Baird's court. A three-judge panel ruled that Baird should have recused himself from the hearing; Willingham's family requested reconsideration by the Third Court's entire, six-judge panel. Although Baird has now retired from the bench (as of Jan. 1), the case is still pending.

6) IS DEATH CONSTITUTIONAL? A hearing challenging the constitutionality of Texas' death penalty system was also delayed, pending action by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Lawyers for an accused murderer are arguing that Texas' death scheme is so capricious, with the likelihood of executing the innocent so high, that execution should be banned. Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos has asked the CCA to halt the inquiry.

7) KILLER KELLER UNWARNED Presiding Judge Sharon Keller got her own day at the CCA, where she won her bid to toss out a public warning by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for her role in closing the courthouse door to a death row inmate's final appeal in 2007.

8) ART FLIRTS WITH DALLAS For a few weeks in the spring it looked like – the horror! – we might lose APD Chief Art Acevedo to a top-cop job in – oh, the horror! – Big D. Ace made the final round but withdrew from consideration to stay weird. At least for the time being.

9) DNA LAB REREREREVIEWED Former Austin Police DNA lab employee Cecily Hamilton suggested that there had been contamination in connection with the Sanders shooting. For the third time, Hamilton's claims were reviewed, and the lab was cleared. Nonetheless, in December, D.A. John "WilCo's Hangman" Bradley convinced two members of the Forensic Science Commission to begin another review.

10) NOT SO SWAT In December, Acevedo placed a wrecked Crown Victoria outside the Eastside SWAT HQ as a reminder of what happens when officers drink and drive. The Crown Vic's driver, Officer Michael Hamilton, had been on-call when he wrecked the car and was subsequently arrested on suspicion of DWI. Changes to SWAT procedures have already taken effect.

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Top 10, Nathaniel Sanders, Colton Tooley, Anthony Graves, David Lee Powell, Cameron Todd Willingham, Sharon Keller, death penalty

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