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