Woman who claimed girlfirend set her on fire is arrested for lighting it herself

Ronna Faris

Olufunke Whitehead, who was arrested in 2010 on suspicion of dousing another women with gasoline and setting her on fire, has been cleared of all charges by Bedford police.

Whitehead was arrested a week after the fire and posted $25,000 bail, but was never charged with the crime. She said the ordeal has cost her more than $6,000 over the past two years in addition to personal distress.

Now, police have arrested Ronna Faris and charged her with arson and attempted capital murder. Police believe Faris doused herself with gasoline and started the fire. Her parents, who were in the house, escaped using walkers.

Faris was burned over 63 percent of her body.

According to a report in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Faris was taken into custody Monday on $500,000 bail. She is charged with arson and attempted murder.

Whitehead met Faris online in April 2010. Faris told police that Whitehead was her girlfriend and broke into her house, doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. Using information from Bedford police, Dallas Voice incorrectly identified Whitehead at the time as an “estranged girlfriend.”

Police at the time said, “I don’t know the extent of their relationship, but I do believe they have referred to each other as girlfriends, but I don’t think they ever lived together.”

—  David Taffet

Equality Texas: Austin murders were hate crime

Jose Alfonso Aviles

When a man fatally shot his daughter’s girlfriend and the girlfriend’s mother in Austin on Monday, there’s no doubt it was an anti-gay hate crime, according to Equality Texas.

“Two women have been murdered because one of them was a lesbian,” the statewide LGBT advocacy group said in a statement about the murders today. “Equality Texas can emphatically state that these homicides were a hate crime.”

As we reported Tuesday night, 45-year-old Jose Alfonso Aviles is charged with capital murder for fatally shooting 24-year-old Norma Hurtado and her mother, 57-year-old Maria Hurtado, on Monday night. According to authorities, Aviles committed the murders because he was angry that his daughter was in a lesbian relationship with Norma Hurtado.

Although the incident appears to have been an anti-gay hate crime, Equality Texas says it can’t be prosecuted as one. That’s because under Texas’ hate crimes statute, there is no penalty enhancement available to prosecutors since the charges are already capital felonies. From the group’s statement:

Regardless of how this case is prosecuted, it is imperative that we acknowledge that these murders were a bias-motivated hate crime. It is important to acknowledge that the City of Austin and Travis County, in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League, convened a Hate Crimes Task Force in December, 2010.  Equality Texas is a working member of this Task Force, which seeks to create a forum that fosters open dialogue about hate and discrimination and strengthens the bonds of our community through prevention, response and restoration.

Regardless of how this case is prosecuted, it is important that we acknowledge pending legislation that would seek to address the barriers to prosecution of hate crimes under the Texas James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act. HB 172 by State Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth would require the Texas Attorney General to conduct a study to examine the success of our Hate Crimes Act and identify barriers to the effective use of, and prosecution under, the Act.  HB 172 is pending in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

Norma Hurtado

Also, the Austin American-Statesman has a follow-up today that provides more details about the murders, including an answer to one of our biggest questions: How old was the suspect’s daughter? According to the Statesman, she had just turned 18. Note that the age of consent in Texas is 17. From the Statesman:

The daughter told police that she and Norma Hurtado had been involved in a lesbian relationship, which her father did not approve of, and that there had been disturbances between Aviles and Norma Hurtado, according to an arrest affidavit. An online records search for those incidents turned up a report of a sexual assault in September and a family disturbance in October; however, police did not release details of the incidents.

The American-Statesman is not identifying the daughter.

The affidavit said a witness told police that the daughter’s parents would send threatening text messages to Norma Hurtado. In one message, Aviles threatened to kill Hurtado and her mother, the document says.

“She stated that (the girlfriend’s) parents have sent text messages threatening Norma because of this relationship,” the witness, a friend of Norma Hurtado’s, told police. About a month ago, the witness “saw a text message from (Aviles) to Norma in which (he) threatened to kill both Norma and her mother,” police said.

Watch the Statesman’s footage of the police press conference about the case below below:

—  John Wright