Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

November 5th, 2004:

Calvin Murphy trial begins

We needed another high profile trial in Houston now that the first Enron case has ended, and so just in time the trial of Calvin Murphy has begun.

Calvin Murphy’s extensive family tree — including 14 children he fathered with nine women — came under close scrutiny today as the beloved local basketball hero went on trial, accused of molesting five daughters more than a decade ago.

Murphy, a 56-year-old retired Houston Rockets player and former TV commentator, sat silently as prosecutors told jurors that he sexually abused the girls between 1988 and 1991, when they ranged in age from 6 to 13.

“These were children who were on the receiving end of their father’s divide-and-conquer ploy,” Assistant District Attorney Lance Long told jurors in his opening statement.

Murphy is charged with three counts each of indecency with a child and aggravated sexual assault. If convicted, he could face a sentence ranging from probation to life in prison.

His attorneys said the allegations stem from a dispute about money and long-standing tension between the children Murphy had with his ex-wife, Vernetta Murphy, and those born to other women, who were pressured to keep their father’s identity a secret.

“This case is not just about money …. This case is about resentment,” said defense attorney Andy Drumheller. “This case is about jealousy. This case is about hatred. This case is about revenge on a father who did a disservice to his children by having such an unusual family tree.”

[…]

Defense attorney Brian Wice, who is not involved in the case but was one of several lawyers observing the trial, said five separate complaints will make it hard for jurors to reject them all as fabrications.

“What bothers me, from a defense standpoint, is the sheer number of complaints,” Wice said. “And there is no nexus between the children. It’s not like they all grew up together and were sitting around talking about what Calvin may have done to them.”

Maybe so. Personally, I think it will be difficult to get a conviction, and not because of Murphy’s fame. This is a classic he-said/she-said case, and while there are multiple complainants against Murphy, the rest of his children are apparently firmly in his corner, and I’d expect them to be key defense witnesses to discredit the prosecution testimony. This is just my opinion, of course. We’ll see what happens.

The next Tulia?

I meant to note this before, but got caught up in the elections frenzy and never got around to it. Last month, an anti-drug task force arrested 72 people in Palestine, Texas on various drug-related counts. Note what the now-offline news report says at the end:

If convicted, many of the defendants could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Other federal defendants face between 40 and 300 years.

Apparently, the justification for that is that all 72 were involved in “distribution”. Given that by this calculation of the likely size of the crack market in rural Palestine, those 72 distributors would make up nearly half the entire user base, I think there may be a little stretching going on.

Why am I bringing up a comparison to Tulia here? Well, for one thing, all 72 of the people arrested are black. According to Census figures from 2000, 23.5% of the residents of Anderson County are black. What are the odds that 100% of Anderson County’s crack-using and -distributing community are black?

Dave Mann of the Texas Observer asks the same question, and notes how this sort of task-force drug bust works:

All over Texas, federally funded drug task forces, with little oversight from state officials, have employed the same strategy. The task force targets a minority community and sends in an undercover officer or confidential informant armed with public funds to buy drugs. Over the course of a long investigation, the undercover officer befriends a group of addicts. Eventually, the undercover cop asks his addict friends to get drugs for him. When an addict goes to his or her dealer and scores a small amount of drugs for the cop, he or she has stepped into a felony charge of delivery of a controlled substance and, because of harsh sentencing guidelines, could face decades in jail.

[…]

Nearly all of the 56 defendants in state court are charged with delivering less than four grams of crack, according to the county indictments. At least 14 of them have no prior felony convictions, and eight more have had a clean record for at least 10 years. For instance, 43-year-old Ira Mae Gross, who has a clean record in Anderson County, is charged with just one count of delivering between one and four grams of crack to Kimbrew last June, according to her indictment. She now faces a second-degree felony drug dealing charge that could earn her a prison sentence of two to 20 years.

Many other suspects are seemingly longtime addicts. Henry Rhodes, Sr., 56, was convicted of possession of less than four grams of crack in 1995. He has no history of selling drugs, though. He was indicted on three counts of delivering crack to [task force confidential informant Othella] Kimbrew. Then there’s Charles E. Barrett, 45, who has a lone drug possession conviction from 1977. He too is facing one count of felony drug dealing for allegedly delivering less than a gram of crack to Kimbrew on June 22, 2004.

That’s certainly being tuff-on-crime. Whether it makes sense or not to send people like Ira Mae Gross to jail for up to 20 years is something I’ll leave up to you.

Scott Henson, from whom I got most of this info, has been following this case closely. Check his blog for future updates.

UPDATE: For some reason, that Texas Observer link is broken. It worked earlier today, when I read the article and copied the bits that I quoted. Not sure what happened, but I’ll try to find out.

On the expansion of I-45

Here’s the report on the scheduled public meeting to discuss plans for widening I-45 north of downtown.

TxDOT statistics show that some 224,000 vehicles per day use I-45 inside Loop 610. The average speed of those vehicles is 36 mph.

By 2025, TxDOT estimates that, with no change to I-45, that average speed will decrease to 32 mph along I-45 within the Loop as the number of vehicles that travel that section of the corridor increases to 269,000.

The I-45 high-occupancy vehicle lane, which is used by 7,000 vehicles per day that travel an average of 55 mph, will bog down to 38 mph by 2025 as the number of cars that travel on those lanes increases to 17,000.

As a result of those projections, analysts have concluded that the addition of managed lanes heading each direction along I-45 will most effectively ease traffic along the corridor.

The managed lanes will take up four center lanes in the middle of the freeway between downtown and Beltway 8, then will reduce to two lanes between the Beltway and Texas 242.

Along with serving as two-way HOV lanes, the managed lanes will also be used for two-way bus service, and will be eligible for use by single-occupancy vehicles that wish to pay a toll.

Those changes would expand I-45 from nine to 12 lanes between downtown and the Beltway, from 11 to 12 lanes between the Beltway and FM 1960, and from eight to 10 lanes between 1960 and Texas 242.

I have two thoughts about this. First, as one who travels the three-lane Pierce Elevated every day, any increase in I-45’s capacity coming into downtown is just going to make the bottleneck at the onramp from I-10 that much worse. The tailback on I-10 to the one-lane entry point to I-45 South can be a half-mile or longer, with cars slowing down one lane over to swoop into any empty space. I-45 itself from I-10 to the 59/288 exit can come to a screeching halt any time, any day – I’ve seen it happen at noon on Sunday – especially at the deep valley where the freeway goes under West Dallas Avenue and then makes a steep climb to its above-Pierce-Street elevation, which is also where two entry/merge points, from Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive converge. Extra capacity coming in will just make this worse, but I’m not hearing of any plan to expand this section of the freeway. Given that it would be hideously expensive to do that because it’s an elevated highway, I don’t expect to ever hear of any such plan. For that reason, and because of its direct impact on me and my daily driving, I will oppose this and any similar expansion of I-45 north of downtown.

Second, isn’t the fact that we’re even discussing the need to add lanes to I-45 an admission that the Hardy Toll Road is an utter and abject failure? We’ve got eight lanes of mostly empty highway, running from The Woodlands to Loop 610 two miles east of I-45, yet it apparently has no impact at all on I-45’s congestion. Wouldn’t it make more sense to take advantage of this grossly underutilized existing capacity instead of spending millions to pour more concrete? Why isn’t this a part of the plan? Why doesn’t TxDOT just offer to buy out the Hardy from the HCTRA, for whom it must be an albatross, and spend whatever is left over from the I-45 expansion budget to extend the Hardy into downtown? What am I missing here?

Vo-Heflin final count over the weekend

The expected recount final count (see update at bottom) in the extremely tight Vo-Heflin race will take place this weekend.

Democratic businessman Hubert Vo apparently defeated Heflin in Tuesday’s election by just 52 votes — a margin that narrowed to 38 with a preliminary count of mail-in votes.

Rather than count the remaining 193 absentee ballots and 189 provisional ballots, cast by voters who could not prove their eligibility when they went to the polls, Vo’s operatives asked election officials to delay the count until the countywide ballot canvassing already scheduled for Sunday.

Larry Veselka, a former Harris County Democratic chair and one of Vo’s representatives, said counting earlier would not comply with the state Election Code.

“We are convinced Mr. Vo’s lead will stand up with the final count. We are not overly concerned,” Veselka said.

Neither of the candidates appeared at a county election office in north Houston where the count had been scheduled Thursday.

[…]

A few thousand provisional and absentee ballots remain to be counted countywide. The count will take place Sunday afternoon and will go into Monday if it is not completed then.

The Harris County clerk’s office is expected to announce the official results Monday.

I can’t find any stories today regarding the Leibowitz/Mercer or White/Baxter races, so as far as I can tell, this is the only recount pending right now. Turns out there was another screwy race up in Wichita Falls.

Democratic incumbent David Farabee returns to the 69th District Texas House of Representative seat for a fourth term by a margin of 3,024 votes.

“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to represent the fine people of Wichita and Archer counties,” Farabee said.

It was three days of long, painful waiting for Farabee and his Republican challenger, Shirley Craft. Complications with ballot counting equipment stalled Wichita County’s tally of the race from Tuesday evening to late Thursday afternoon.

Archer County residents also vote in the 69th District.

After the wait, Farabee said he has “confidence in our county officials and was proud of the job they did.”

The delay was apparently caused by problems counting the votes.

Election night problems with the county’s software that tabulates votes kept spitting out an unusually high number of “undervotes” – ballots without votes in some races.

County officials performed several tests on the machine using dummy ballots that came out perfect. But when the real ballots were processed the “undervotes” would appear again.

“It wasn’t properly programmed to pick up straight party votes,” County Clerk JW Martin said.

County Judge Woody Gossom said the dummy cards did not cover all the possible voting possibilities and that is why the tests were successful while the real vote count was not.

The county remedied the problem Wednesday night with the help of a computer programmer from Elections Systems and Software, the county’s software provider.

Gossom said the programmer alleviated the counting problem by re-entering all the program information and increasing the test parameters to allow for the testing of more areas.

“ESS did a wonderful job. There are no problems with the results,” Martin said about the fix.

Martin said he was told by two representatives from the office of Texas’ Secretary of State who were present for the final result tallying that the problems were not a reflection on the actions of the county clerk’s office.

“Throughout the whole event Martin and I worked to keep our local county chairs, poll watchers and Secretary of State’s office as informed as we could,” Gossom said.

Gossom said the county’s problems with the punch card voting system are ironic in light of the federal mandate requiring Wichita County to switch to electronic voting machines by 2006. In defense, Gossom said, “there were problems with those machines, too.”

Talk of a manual count of the Wichita County ballots by local Republican campaign leaders filled the air Wednesday afternoon. They felt the continuously failing voting equipment could not be trusted.

A manual recount was conducted Thursday night on the 69th District legislative race between Democratic incumbent David Farabee and Republican challenger Shirley Craft. Farabee took the race by 3,024 votes.

Gossom said he offered to allow a hand count of all the local elections after the final results. The results have no legal bearing and would not be reported to the Texas Secretary of State.

“It sounded acceptable to everybody,” he said.

The 69th District count is being done in conjunction with a manual recount of three precincts as dictated by the Secretary of State. Martin said a recount of this type is done after every election to spot check the electronically counted ballots.

Note that the problem here was with vote-counting software, not with e-voting machines, as those machines were not in use.

Finally, Kristin Mack takes a look at Mustafa Tameez, the man behind Hubert Vo’s so-far successful campaign as well as Mayor Bill White’s city proposition elections.

Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Tameez, 35, moved to Queens, N.Y., when he was 8.

Tameez moved to Houston in 1994 and married a year later.

He’s worked as a compensation analyst, started a small software company and worked at a sales/marketing company, selling coupons on backs of books and billboard space. He’s good at sales jobs, and that skill is useful in politics, too.

His wife’s uncle encouraged him to get politically involved in the community, and he started by recruiting South Asians to become delegates to the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

In 2001 he worked on get-out-the-vote efforts in the South Asian community for then-Mayor Lee Brown’s re-election campaign. Eighty percent of Asians voted for Brown.

Then Tameez had to take almost a year off recovering from hip and shin surgery related to his avascular necrosis, which results in a loss of blood to the bones and leads them to deteriorate. He walks with a cane.

Last year, White tapped Tameez to get out Asian-American votes for White’s mayoral campaign.

[…]

Like most political consultants, Tameez prefers to work behind the scenes. And most candidates like it that way.

His presence has been felt by Republicans, though, and they’re not happy with his role in the campaigns against Heflin and against Proposition 2, which the local GOP formally supported.

That animosity already is leading to talk that Republican legislators will make it tough on White when he tries to push the city’s agenda in Austin during next year’s legislative session.

Tameez says he doesn’t take these rough edges of politics personally — even when an elected official suggested that Tameez might do better if he changed his name.

He’s doing fine with it as it is.

With all those good results under his belt already, expect to hear that name a lot more in the future.

UPDATE: As Rob notes, this is not yet a recount, but a count of the votes which have not been counted yet, including absentees and provisionals. After that, the losing candidate is pretty darned sure to ask for a recount, which is completely logical and understandable in a race this close. As I recall from the recount in City Council District G last year, the electronic votes will be recounted by feeding the relevant eSlate memory cards into the readers. As with that instance, one would hope that the same answer will be reached, lest even bigger questions be raised. Once the not-yet-counted votes have been officially tallied, that result is likely to be what stands. As noted here, “No recount has ever changed the outcome on an election in Harris County”.