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Texas Briefly

Sunday, October 2, 2022

5 slain in Texas neighborhood identified; suspect charged

McGREGOR (AP) — Officials have disclosed the identities of five people killed in a Central Texas neighborhood, as well as the suspect in the slayings.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said Friday that Nicolas Jaimes- Hernandez, 35, of Mexico, was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. More charges are pending.

He was shot and wounded Thursday in a gunfight with officers at the scene where five people were found shot dead, officials said. He was treated at a hospital before being booked into the McLennan County Jail without bond.

The five bodies were found at two houses in McGregor, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of Waco. The DPS identified them as Monica Delgado, 38, Miguel Avila, 15, and Natallie Avila, 14, along with next-door neighbors Lorena Aviles, 47, and her daughter, Natalie Aviles, 20.

Esme Ortuno, Delgado’s cousin, said that Jaimes-Hernandez was Delgado’s husband and stepfather of the two slain children. Renee Flores, sister of Lorena Aviles, said her sister and niece were innocent bystanders.

The Texas Rangers were leading the investigation. No motive for the shootings has been released.

Authorities: Texas man shoots 2 migrants near Mexico border

AUSTIN (AP) — Two brothers — including one who has been a warden at a detention center that has housed immigrants — have been arrested in Texas after authorities say one of them opened fire on a group of migrants getting water near the U.S.-Mexico border, killing one man and shooting a woman in the stomach.

The shooting happened Tuesday in rural Hudspeth County about 90 miles (145 kilometers) from El Paso, according to court documents filed Thursday. The woman was taken to a hospital in El Paso where she was recovering, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

DPS said the victims were among a group of migrants standing alongside the road getting water when a truck with two men inside pulled over. According to court documents, the group had taken cover as the truck first passed to avoid being detected, but the truck then backed up.

Michael Sheppard and Mark Sheppard, both 60, were charged with manslaughter, according to court documents. It was not clear whether either man had an attorney and no contact information could immediately be found Thursday.

Records show that Michael Sheppard was a warden at the West Texas Detention Facility, a privately owned center that has housed migrant detainees. A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told The Associated Press that no immigration detainees had been held at that detention facility since October 2019.

Scott Sutterfield, a spokesman for facility operator Lasalle Corrections, said Thursday that the center’s warden had been fired “due to an off-duty incident unrelated to his employment.” He declined further comment.

Authorities located the truck by checking cameras and finding a vehicle matching the description given by the migrants, according to court records.

— Paul J. Weber; Associated Press writer Acacia Coronado contributed to this report.

Appeals court rules Texas courtroom can open with prayer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A deeply divided federal appeals court has ruled that a Texas judge may start the day with prayer, overturning a district court decision.

Judges on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans split 2-1 in opinions handed down Thursday, reversing a ruling made without a trial by U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt.

Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack doesn’t force anyone to attend the prayers before court formally opens, Judge Jerry E. Smith wrote for himself and Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt.

Mack “takes great pains to convince attendees that they need not watch the ceremony — and that doing so will not affect their cases,” he wrote.

Judge E. Grady Jolly responded, “For the majority to find that there is no evidence of coercion, suggests, in my opinion, willful blindness and indisputable error.”

He noted that Mack is a Pentecostal minister who made a campaign promise to establish prayer in his courtroom. “He has previously criticized opponents of his prayer ceremony and has acted hostile following a litigant’s noncooperation in the prayer,” Jolly wrote.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued Mack in 2017 for itself and an anonymous lawyer who said he attended the sessions out of fear that not doing so would hurt his clients.

“A courtroom is not a church, and a judge’s bench should not be a pulpit,” the foundation’s co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, said in a news release Friday. “This is a dishonest decision, both in claiming a tradition of courtroom prayer and in denying that it is coercive.”

Two people who made sworn statements against Mack included an attorney who said he stayed out of the courtroom during the prayer and Mack gave him the “bare minimum” to which he was entitled in evicting a tenant. The other was a criminal defendant who said Mack tried to raise the fine in her plea agreement because she showed “apathy” during the prayer.

But, the majority said, neither proved bias.

“One got the precise penalty for which she plea-bargained, and the other won the eviction he sought. They offer nothing more than the subjective perception that Mack disliked them,” Smith wrote.

Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press

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