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

AG candidates polar opposites on gay issues

Radnofsky pledges to stand for equality; incumbent Abbott has record of fighting LGBT rights

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

OPPOSITE NUMBER  |  Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general Barbara Radnofsky supports marriage equality for same-sex couples, while Republican incumbent Greg Abbott has spoken against same-sex marriage. He also recently intervened to appeal a trial court ruling granting a same-sex couple a divorce.
OPPOSITE NUMBER | Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general Barbara Radnofsky supports marriage equality for same-sex couples, while Republican incumbent Greg Abbott has spoken against same-sex marriage. He also recently intervened to appeal a trial court ruling granting a same-sex couple a divorce.

Possibly no race in Texas this election cycle is as clear-cut about where the candidates stand on LGBT issues as is the attorney general’s race.

Neither Attorney General Greg Abbott nor anyone from his campaign returned calls seeking comment for this story. But Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman agrees that the choice in this race is clear for those who vote primarily on LGBT issues. Still, he suggested looking at Attorney General Greg Abbott’s entire record.

Democratic challenger Barbara Ann Radnofsky stands by her positions on equality.

“I try to follow the Golden Rule,” Radnofsky said.

In other races, candidates run from the issue. Radnofsky was happy to talk about where she stands.

Radnofsky said she supports employment nondiscrimination legislation and she uses language on her website that is transgender-inclusive.
She said she would like to add gender identity and expression to the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, the Texas penalty enhancement law that

applies to hate crimes committed in Texas.

Radnofsky said she would also like to see the legislature pass a law prohibiting discrimination against or harassment of LGBT students and teachers in Texas public schools.

Radnofsky campaign spokeswoman Katie Floyd said the candidate taught mediation for 15 years.

Radnofsky addressed another threat to gay and lesbian families that makes its way into legislative committees each session. She said that taking the best interests of the child into account, she supports guaranteeing foster and adoptive parenting rights to LGBT parents.

She would also like to provide domestic partner benefits to state employees and opposes any legislation that would prohibit private employers from offering those benefits.

On her website, Radnofsky also mentions supporting the Americans With Disabilities Act. While that doesn’t seem controversial, the Texas Republican Party platform calls for gays and lesbians to be excluded from protections guaranteed under the ADA.

Greg Abbott recently won an appeal of the Dallas same-sex divorce case. In enforcing the anti-marriage amendment passed in Texas in 2005, he appealed a lower court ruling that would have granted a divorce to a gay couple married in Massachusetts.

Abbott is equally clear on his website about his stand on marriage equality for gays and lesbians.

“Texas law defines marriage as an institution between one man and one woman,” his website claims. “Attorney General Abbott has fought efforts to undermine Texas’ law and the basic family structure in our state. He understands that traditional marriage is the cornerstone for a strong and stable family.”

But Abbott goes further defending opposite-sex marriage by claiming studies support his stand without citing any of those studies.

“A wealth of empirical data demonstrates the unmatched potency of the family to combat social ills, foster strong communities, and promote happier, healthier lives,” he claims in his official position statement.

Radnofsky, on the other hand, agrees with the ruling from the lower court in the same-sex divorce case.

“The Attorney General shouldn’t intervene in the non-violent, orderly wind-down of a relationship,” she said. “He should leave divorce orders to the proper court decision-making, and get back to work on the problems facing our state.

“Orderly divorce and family law allows the peaceful separation of the two disputants, property disposition, payment of taxes and debt, alimony, child support and custody,” Radnofsky said. “That’s the way civilized society is supposed to function. Ignoring or voiding an out-of-state marriage, suggested by the AG, is not a solution to these many issues and the need for courts to supervise peaceful, orderly solutions.”

Abbott lists his success in collecting more than $13 billion in child support payments as his top issue.

“He’s very strong on going after deadbeat fathers for child support,” Neerman said. “He fights for the interests of children.”

Neerman also mentioned Abbott’s record on prosecution of white-collar fraud and online data protection.

“He’s also been strong on fighting Internet predators,” Neerman said.

He mentioned a number of areas where Abbott has protected rights of Texans. On behalf of 31 states, Abbott fought the District of Columbia’s handgun law before the Supreme Court and won.

But on LGBT issues, he has worked against equality.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Erin Moore said, “Abbott’s been a henchman for Republicans for years.”

Moore called this one of the most important statewide races as far as LGBT rights are concerned.

“It’s one of the ones we’re keeping the keenest eye on,” she said. “He’s been malicious in his prosecution of LGBT rights. He’s got to go.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas