Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jury Selection Underway in Houston for Murder of Texas A & M Student

Many of my readers in Texas, as well as around the country, will be familiar with the horrific murder of Texas A & M student Tynesha Stewart. The crime made national headline news when it happened in the spring of last year, with the ensuing investigation receiving a great deal of criticism from community and legal activists. Another chapter in this drama is set to unfold here in Houston this week. Ms. Stewart's former boyfriend, Timothy Wayne Shepherd, was charged in her death in 2007 and jury selection for his trial got underway yesterday in a Harris County courtroom. The major hurdle facing prosecutors ... there is no body to present as evidence that a murder occurred.

Shepherd has confessed to strangling Stewart after learning that she had started a new relationship. Then, after first leading police to a commercial trash bin in their search for Stewart's remains, he later admitted to dismembering the body and burning it over two barbeque pits at his apartment. While thirty pieces of charred bone and hair have been found, there was no viable DNA available. And, the confession itself may be thrown out of court as Shepherd may have shared the information during questioning that occurred after he had requested an attorney. Assistant District Attorney Marie Primm may need to prove guilt without the evidence and admission of guilt that certainly would make her case more compelling.

For his part, defense attorney Chip Lewis is looking for jurors who can separate her murder from the subsequent treatment of her body. As he states, "The details are the details, we can't change them, but the details are irrelevant as to whether Tim Shepherd is guilty of murder." In other words, those deciding Shepherd's fate on the murder charge cannot be swayed by the disgusting acts that followed.

With a murder trial, both sides must have the most experienced and aggressive legal team possible. If you have been accused of even this most serious of crimes, Bertolino LLP has attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio ready to help you. Please contact us today to discuss the details of your case.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Austin Dad Charged with Shooting Son

The seasons are definitely changing here in Austin. Communities are gathering for the local high school games on Friday nights and the Longhorns provide outstanding performances every Saturday (up to number five in the polls!). The promise of cooler weather can be seen on the evening forecasts. Halloween candy and costumes line the shelves of every store, soon to be replaced with fruitcakes and shiny ornaments. The point is that the holiday season will be here before we know it. And, I know that this festive time of year also comes with more than its share of family stress. If the level of discord amongst those perched on your family tree reaches anything close that found with the Wolters clan, may I suggest some group therapy before you even think about carving a turkey.

Austin resident David Carlton Wolters has been charged with shooting his adult son, Christopher Wolters, in the chest and upper shoulder. The younger Wolters is listed in serious condition at University Medical Center. What possible reason could father have for firing bullets into his own son? Apparently, the injured Mr. Wolters was attempting to stab his brother with a knife when dear dad intervened. It seems that violence occurs both within and between generations in the Wolters family.

These acts of violence occurred around 4:00am on Sunday morning at David Wolters' Austin home. As an attorney with years of experience, please allow me to share this piece of advice -- try not to be around people with whom you have a disagreement (shared genetic material or not) in the wee hours of the morning. Judgment tends not to be its strongest at this time and violence often ensues. In this instance, David Wolters is facing charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which is a second degree felony.

Have long-held sibling rivalries exploded into an evening of violence? Have you been accused of harassment by a cousin who never really liked you? At Bertolino LLP, we have criminal defense attorneys ready to fight aggressively for you in court. If you find yourself in an unfortunate legal situation, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Austin Cop Leaves Gun in Bathroom

There is a certain mental checklist that a man goes through before he leaves a public restroom. Flush? Check. Zipped? Check. Hands washed? Yes, aggressively with standard pink liquid soap. Loaded weapon capable of fatal consequences if placed in the wrong hands? Safely in its holster. One of the members of the Austin police department failed to complete this essential list of questions before exiting the men's room at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center and he left his service weapon in the bathroom. There are never any questionable characters hanging out around a courtroom! What possibly could have gone wrong?

This is not the first time in recent months that an Austin cop has been careless with his weapon. As I wrote about on this blog back in July, another member of the force left his loaded gun at a playground to be discovered by a group of mothers and their young children. This dangerous trend of leaving guns behind like some loose change that slips out of a pocket is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed by those in authority at the police department. Sean Mannix, commander of the organized crime division, said that an internal investigation into the matter is underway.

The careless cop, identified by an attorney at the scene as Jason Bryant, was at the court house to testify in a narcotics case. And, I am pleased to report that his day was not all bad. Sure, he endangered the lives of countless innocents by leaving his deadly weapon in open access for possible evil uses. On the other hand, though, the defendant in the case for which Officer Bryant was testifying was convicted and sentenced to two and a half years. I guess the day could be considered a wash!

If you find a gun that has been abandoned by a police officer and decide to use the weapon in an illegal way (which would be doing absolutely anything with it), you may find yourself in need of an criminal defense attorney. The firm of Bertolino LLP has attorneys in Austin, Houston and San Antonio ready to help you. Please contact us today.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

San Antonio Restaurant Investigated for Sexual Activity

What is your favorite menu item at the local Mexican restaurant? Chicken enchiladas, bean burritos ... perhaps the adventurous fish tacos? If you patronize the Las Nenas Cafe in San Antonio, you may also have the opportunity to order the "waitress lap dance special" to go with your chips and salsa. And, with such extra offerings that cannot be found on the menu, you had to know it was only a matter of time before law enforcement got involved.

The investigation into the restaurant started with a local news team acting on tips from troubled customers. With an undercover camera in tow, the reporters stopped by for lunch and discovered scantily-clad servers who were offering explicit dances to eager diners. Even with this surprising entertainment, there was still some question concerning whether or not the restaurant operates in violation of indecent exposure laws, as the women remained in their clothes. So, Las Nenas continued to operate with toned-down dancing to keep the investigators at bay. The story does not end there, however.

One of the waitresses at Las Nenas was arrested yesterday for solicitation of prostitution after she offered more than spicy food to undercover vice cops. Other employees who were interviewed following the unnamed woman's arrest insisted that nothing illegal was taking place at the dining establishment. However, I find it difficult to believe that the $800 in tips found on the waitress/alleged sexual salesperson came from quick delivery of the margaritas during the lunch rush. For now, the investigation continues and the operating license of Las Nenas is in serious jeopardy.

Are you an employee at a local business who has been accused of offerings deals not printed on the weekly circular? If you find yourself in need of a criminal defense attorney, please contact us at Bertolino LLP and let's discuss your case. We have attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who are ready to help.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Austin Police Looking for Man Stealing Gas

Do you still wince every time you pull up to a gas pump and look at the price for a gallon of that precious fuel? Drivers across the nation are struggling with the effect that filling up is having on their wallets. In some areas of the country, such as Nashville, Tennessee, the problem is even worse. Following Hurricane Ike, gas supply to that area has gone nearly dry, with eighty-five percent of the stations completely closed at one point and long lines greeting customers at the few available pumps. Back here in Austin, one man has found a way around the high gas prices and the police are asking for your help in finding him.

The suspect, whose grainy picture is shown above, is said to have stolen around $10,000 of fuel from gas station pumps. He apparently has a master key to open the pumps and knows the master code to override the controls. He has used his inside knowledge to fill up multiple cars at stations in the south central area of Austin. He avoids the threat of witnesses by breaking into the pumps during night hours when there are no attendants working.

Have you seen a man driving around in a SUV, possibly a Ford Escape, who does not seem concerned with paying $4.00 for a tank of gas? Have you observed him standing in front of a pump looking at a notepad on which is scribbled a long series of numbers? Please call the Austin Police Department at (512) 974-5268 with any information you may have.

If the current gas prices have led you to commit a crime (stealing gas, vandalizing a pump out of utter frustration, blocking off an 18-wheeler on the interstate to grab some bread instead of having to pay the increased prices at the supermarket) and you are need of a strong defense, please contact Bertolino LLP and share your situation with us. We have attorneys in Austin, Houston and San Antonio who are ready to help you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Austin Masseur Arrested for Secret Videos

You've had a long day at work or maybe a particularly stressful afternoon with the kids. You are looking forward to the massage appointment that has been circled on your calendar for weeks. Some essential oils and music that features the chimes ... yes, all will be better soon. What if you discovered, however, that photographs and video were being taken of you secretly during this supposed moment of relaxation? And, what if you then learned that these pictures of you, along with those of 120 other women, were being circulated by your masseur amongst his friends? If you ever had a massage by Austin resident Jason Charles Thompson, perhaps you should be concerned that this scenario applies to you.

Mr. Thompson has been arrested and charged with improper photography or video recording, which is a Texas state felony that comes with jail time. He took secrets photos of his clients "in various states of undress" and during their actual massages. There is also video of him having sex with several of the women, which I imagine is not one of the approved methods of treatment approved by the American Massage Therapy Association. He was booked in the Travis County Jail on Friday on a $50,000 bond.

How were the incriminating photos discovered? Thompson is going through a divorce, and his wife found them on their home computer as she was removing some of her personal files. And, what's worse is that she recognized one of her friends as an unwitting star in several of the videos. Hmmm ... that should make for an interesting detail with the divorce attorneys.

Have you been accused of taking inappropriate photographs of customers at your place of employment? Did your wife discover such photos because you unwisely filed them on your home computer? At Bertolino LLP, we have both criminal defense and divorce attorneys who are ready to help you with these specific situations. Please call our Austin, Houston or San Antonio office today.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Houston Boy Killed During Fight Over Stray Cat

I can appreciate a quality family pet as much as the next attorney. My family, for one, has two pets (a poodle named Kipper and schnauzer named Cody). And, who doesn't applaud a young person who wants to provide a good home to a stray cat? However, when a teenager's defense of his new furry feline friend leads to the death of an innocent child, his stand as an animal-rights activist loses its nobility. There is a basis for these introductory statements to my blog today, and at the center of my comments is the death of two-year-old Avery Rhodes Williams. He was stabbed to death on Friday when his mother's boyfriend and the man's younger brother fought over the presence of a homeless feline in the latter's Houston apartment.

Keenan Bernard Conner, the aforementioned boyfriend, did not appreciate the stray cat that his younger brother brought home a few days ago (protesting the pet despite the fact that he doesn't even live with his brother). When Conner threatened to throw the cat into the apartment complex's swimming pool, the juvenile sibling pulled out a large kitchen knife. In the fight that ensued, little Avery, who was visiting the apartment with his mom and Mr. Conner, was struck by the blade and died.

Based on his attack on Mr. Conner, the sixteen-year-old pet rescuer (unnamed due to his age) was arrested on charges of aggravated assault which, in part, is defined as use or exhibition of a deadly weapon during the commission of an assault. He has yet to be charged in the death of his young visitor, but awaits further details while being housed at a juvenile detention facility. If murder charges are added, the future does not look bright for this young man.

At Bertolino LLP, we have defense attorneys with experience in a wide variety of criminal matters. If you have been accused of a violent act, you need to have an aggressive and experienced lawyer on your side. Please call our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today to discuss your case.

Friday, September 19, 2008

File Your Hurricane Insurance Claims Now!

For those of you affected by Hurricane Ike in the Houston and Galveston areas, I know that you are facing many challenges and "to-do" lists right now. Many of you are still without electricity in your homes. If you are living (or own a business) in an area that is inaccessible unless you are part of emergency personnel, you feel like life is in a holding pattern until you can return and assess the damage. For others, the calls to carpet cleaners and the visits to home improvement stores have begun. During this difficult time, you must not forget the importance of filing your insurance claims immediately.

Earlier this week, the Texas Department of Insurance posted an article with some important recommendations for those who will need to file insurance claims:

1. Make a list of your damaged property. Take photos or videos, if possible.

2. Go ahead and make temporary repairs (such as covering broken windows) to prevent further damage. Keep receipts for all expenses incurred.

3. Try to be present during the adjuster's inspection.

The Department of Insurance has other helpful Hurricane Ike information on its site, including contact information for government services and volunteer opportunities.

The current estimates show that Hurricane Ike is expected to result in more than $11 billion in claims, making it the fifth most expensive insurance event in United States history. A report completed earlier this earlier by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), done in the wake of complaints stemming from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, determined that the insurance industry has some shortcomings when processing flood payments for hurricane-damaged properties. Therefore, it is essential that you are aggressive and detailed in your pursuit of insurance collections.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who can assist you with your insurance issues. If you are a victim of a denied Hurricane Ike insurance claim due to bad faith, or have not filed your claim, please give us a call at our Houston office at (713) 225-7474.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Austin Police Department Faces Discrimination Lawsuit

Recent events have provided great examples of the strides that women have made towards professional equality in this country. We saw a woman come close to receiving the presidential nomination from a major political party, and the other party select a female as its vice-presidential candidate. Women are successful CEOs at major corporations, astronauts, diplomats and any other profession you can imagine. However, in Austin, three female police officers allege that discrimination is alive and well in their department. The women filed suit against the city yesterday in state District Court accusing Austin of violating the state's labor codes.

Sgts. Linda Ponder and Mary Hesalroad and Lt. Deborah Sawyer call out two specific supervisors for their inappropriate behavior towards female officers. One man, Cmdr. Calvin Smith, is accused of telling a cadet class that the city "even hires women" now and that some of these women can grow mustaches to match the men. Smith was given a previous suspension for comments he made expressing his concern over the message being sent by the transfer of gay women in the department. The other man named in the lawsuit, Lt. Randall Pasley, is said to have made harrassing comments and treated his female officers differently than the men under his supervision.

The attorney for the two women, Mark Anthony Sanchez out of San Antonio, uses an interesting analogy to describe the grievances held by his clients. He stated, "The Austin Police Department has been systematically Tasering the civil rights of women in the upper echelons of the Police Department." This quote seems to imply that the problems within the department run deeper than the actions of two men. We will see if these accusations prove valid in the courtroom.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys in our Austin, Houston, and San Antonio offices who focus on business litigation. If you are a private business owner who is facing a discrimination lawsuit like the one facing the Austin Police Department, please contact us and let's discuss your situation.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Houston Police Taking Aggressive Stance Against Looters

For the most part, Texans are pulling together to help one another in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. We are helping our neighbors with property clean up, providing food and water donations to charitable organizations, and following the recommendations of our elected officials. However, there is a small group of residents who want to take advantage of the damaged businesses in the Houston area. Looters should be aware that law enforcement is ready and will take aggressive steps to protect the city.

As those who live in the Houston area and others who have been following the impact of Ike on the news know, we are operating under a nighttime curfew. With this extra measure at their disposal, Houston police officers have stepped up with extra patrols and they have arrested nearly 100 people on charges of looting since Hurricane Ike blew through the city last weekend.

Local business owner Hilton Williams shares the sentiments of many in Houston when he says, "If you're caught looting, you should go straight to the 'big house.' Don't waste the taxpayers' money on a trial."

Those who take advantage of the damage done by this natural disaster, in stealing everything from small drug store items to furniture to liquor stores, will not be dealt with lightly by Houston law enforcement. Houston Police Department Captain Bruce Williams has warned that looters will be handled with a swift, firm hand. Houston residents in genuine need of items such as medical supplies and safe drinking water should turn to the government relief stations or local charity groups for assistance, not to burglary in an already compromised building.

We certainly deplore looting in our beloved city. However, if you are stopped by Houston police during this difficult time and believe you have been incorrectly accused of a crime, please contact us here at Bertolino LLP. Our criminal defense attorneys are ready to fight aggressively for your legal rights.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Texas Man Offers Ride and Gets Stabbed

You're a man with a roomy truck and a tank filled with gasoline (perhaps you thought ahead and purchased that all-important fuel last week). You consider yourself the type of person who likes to help a neighbor in need. So, what are your natural instincts going to be when two women who approach you late at night share that they are in need of a ride? Of course, you open the passenger door and offer your chauffeur services to the lovely young ladies. If this scenario describes you, then you have something in common with Angel Martinez. And, the outcome of his actions should serve as your warning.

Mr. Martinez welcomed two women into his truck late Friday night on the South Side of San Antonio. Apparently, the good Samaritan may not have realized the reason that the two women asked to take refuge in his vehicle. Their quick proposition for sexual activity, however, clarified the objective. Martinez declined the offer and prepared to let the women out of his truck. It was at this point that two men approached Martinez and stabbed him in his chest. He was found by EMS while walking towards a main road and was taken to the hospital in poor condition.

Neither the women who were marketing their sexual skills nor the men who stabbed Mr. Martinez (and stole his wallet) have been found. But, multiple charges of a serious nature await them following their capture. In the meantime, if you see two females approaching your vehicle for transportation assistance, look for men lurking in the shadows waiting to strike before you oblige.

At Bertolino LLP, we have criminal defense attorneys who can provide assistance if you are an accomplice to a crime posing as someone in need of a ride, or if you are facing any other charges. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today to discuss your case.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Protect Yourself Against Hurricane Scams

The extent of Hurricane Ike's impact on the state of Texas is only beginning to be revealed. As everyone knows, on Saturday came roaring through downtown Houston, which is where one of our law offices is located. All of our Houston attorneys and staff are safe, along with our clients' case files. But, due to the blockade in downtown Houston, I have not yet been able to assess the physical damage. I know that we suffered some flooding, but again, I do not know the extent of the damage. Right now, along with the downtown area, we know that millions in the Houston area are without power, thousands have been rescued from Galveston with a massive search effort still ongoing and most of the state is ... to put it simply ... really wet. What remains to be seen is the assessment of the monetary damage to homes, boats, businesses and other property and how long it takes to clean up the broken windows and fallen trees.

As the recovery gets underway, it is important for all affected residents to be aware of possible scams. It's an unfortunate reality that some crooks prey on the hurting victims of such catastrophes, or steal money from those who simply want to help. A word to all of my blog readers and non-blog readers alike: be very careful!

Houston's KHOU news station has an excellent article on its website detailing the threats by swindlers after a hurricane. It is advised that anyone requiring assistance after Hurricane Ike quickly get educated on how to be a discerning consumer, and the article relies on the Better Business Bureau for some important recomendations. The BBB warns that some instances of threats to your pocketbook include:

1. Used car dealerships that try to sell rain-damaged vehicles -- look under the dash and in the glove compartment for clues

2. Door-to-door salesmen who convince you of a pest infestation during a free inspection.

3. Carpet cleaners who magically clean your entire home without removing a single inch of fabric from your floors.

As with any business agreement, make sure that you require a contract and that you read the fine print from top to bottom. If the vendor is not able to offer you any written guarantee of services provided, you need to look for other options immediately.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize in the area of business contracts. We can make sure that all parties are entering into a working relationship with a clear understanding of the objectives and guarantees. If you are in need of some legal assistance due to the impact of Hurricane Ike, and you want to avoid being scammed, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio offices today.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Preparing for Hurricane Ike

Today's approach of Hurricane Ike puts my daily posts on legal issues affecting Texans on the back burner. Instead, we are all focused on the forces of nature that are zeroing in on Galveston, Houston and other areas of our state. My thoughts are with my fellow Texans today. I hope that everyone has reached, or is in the process of reaching, a safe location and that the damage to our homes and businesses is minimal.

The National Weather Service issued a warning last night that people choosing to stay in Galveston Bay and who live in one- and two-story homes are facing "certain death". I don't remember ever hearing such strong language coming from a storm warning. I hope that every resident of Galveston is taking the notice seriously. There will be as much as nine feet of flooding a mile inland! Houston is looking to take a direct hit as well, requiring the evacuation of millions of people. I credit our local and state officials for taking every step possible to ensure the safety of their residents.

Curfews have already been issued in many areas. Houston airports are grounding commercial flights today. Schools will be closed. Professional football and baseball games have been postponed. President Bush has issued a state of emergency for the entire state of Texas.

All of the attorneys with Bertolino LLP are watching the progress of Hurricane Ike and we hope that the worst predictions do not come to fruition. If destruction does occur and you have legal battles to fight in the wake of the storm, we will be at our Austin, Houston and San Antonio offices to assist you.

Duke Football = Not Good

Please don't get me wrong, I absolutely agree with Duke's counsel assessment of the facts, but this is Duke's counsel. It just begs the question: Really?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Houston Dad Indicted on Charges of Killing His Children

Several times on Beloblawg, I have written about mothers who have committed horrific crimes either against or with their young children. The nominees for this blog's "Mother of the Year" award continue to grow with each new police report. I decided that it's time to turn my attention to some of the outstanding dads here in Texas. Randy Sylvester of Houston has received national attention over the past several months for the alleged murder of his two children. Yesterday, Mr. Sylvester was indicted in the deaths in a Harris County courtroom. Prosecutors have indicated that they will be seeking the death penalty if Sylvester is found guilty on the capital murder charges.

Randy Sylvester led authorities to the charred bodies of his two children, three-year-old Denim and seven-year-old Randy, a week after reporting them missing on (ironically ... and quite sadly) Father's Day. There is evidence, based on burned tree limbs, that an accelerant was used at the scene. So, it appears that the suitcase and wooden box which held the little bodies were intentionally torched at the makeshift burial site. Sylvester insists that, although he knew the location of his kids' remains, he is not responsible for their murders. Instead, he claims that the children were killed by some anonymous people to whom he owed money.

The additional details surrounding Mr. Sylvester do not look good. While being indicted on the capital murder charges, he also was indicted for assault against the mother of his children. Last year, he pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine but failed to meet the conditions of the probation he received. We can now only wonder why he was never brought back to court to answer for this violation and perhaps be put behind bars and safely away from his children.

At Bertolino LLP, we have criminal defense attorneys who are prepared to provide strong and thorough legal representation to those accused of breaking the law. If you are in need of a lawyer to assist you with the charges you are facing, please contact our Austin, Houston or San Antonio office today.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Houston Judge Shuts Down Topless Club

Dozens of planned bachelor parties in Houston will now be scrambling for a new destination. Women who have spent years perfecting their skills with a metal pole and developing a wardrobe based on plastic heels and pasties will need to find a new profession. The Penthouse Club (link not provided on this family-friendly blog), an establishment at which the entertainment chooses to take the stage without the warmth of a shirt, has been shut down by a Houston judge following repeated pleas by residents who live in the area.

More than ten years ago, the city of Houston passed a sexually oriented business ordinance. It required that businesses of a "sexual nature" obtain a license from the city and that they remain at least 1500 feet from residential areas. However, officials have encountered difficulties enforcing the law due to the creative loopholes that were quickly invented and exploited. The entrepreneurs claimed that they were running "bikini bars" or legitimate bookstores (all New York Times bestsellers, to be sure) and therefore insisted that they were exempt from compliance with the ordinance.

This great spin failed to work on District Judge Mark Davidson yesterday when he ruled in favor of a city petition against The Penthouse Club, which marks Houston's first real (albeit delayed) success with the ordinance. In addition to the owners not having the necessary license, the Penthouse is located near two churches and a school and was a magnet for prostitution and drug crimes. I guess the wholesome facade is difficult to maintain when people walking home from Sunday services observe the offering of sexual services by a woman who likely does not resemble Julia Roberts.

Are you a legitimate bikini bar just trying to show the residents of Houston some clean, wholesome fun but are being threatened with closure by the city? Have you been arrested for an unseemly activity outside one of these entertainment venues? At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize in business litigation and criminal defense. If you need legal assistance, please contact our Austin, Houston or San Antonio today.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Texas Mom Instructs Teenagers to Rob and Murder

From a young age, I noticed my daughter learning lessons from my wife. My daughter watches as my wife prepares her morning hair and daily dress up routine. She mimics her mother's activities all the time. My daughter wants to help with the cooking, shopping, cleaning and phone calls. She pays close attention to how her primary role model treats other people.

But, in the criminal case of Dannette Gillespie, a daughter learns from the woman who bore her how to rob and murder an elderly man. Now there's a wonderful lesson to be passed down through the generations.

Ms. Gillespie, a resident of Pasadena (a suburb of Houston), allegedly told her fifteen-year-old daughter (who has not been named due to her age) and her nineteen-year-old friend Vanessa Ocampo to rob Eugene Palma. Not wanting the young ladies to be unprepared for their violent encounter with the elderly bar owner, Gillespie is said to have supplied her charges with knives. These weapons were used by the teenagers to stab Mr. Palma eleven times in his driveway while Gillespie watched from the backseat of the trio's car. Nothing like getting children to do nasty work for you while you cower behind closed doors. Despite Gillespie's decision to stay behind and babysit the vehicle, she is being charged with capital murder just like the two young assailants.

According to the Texas penal code, capital murder occurs when "the person intentionally commits the murder in the course of committing or attempting to commit ... robbery." If found guilty of this crime, the two women (and possibly the girl, if charged as an adult) will face the possibility of the death penalty. I wonder if the $15 that they grabbed from Mr. Palma's pockets was worth it?

At Bertolino LLP, we have criminal defense attorneys who are prepared to handle even the most serious offenses. While we certainly hope you never find yourself in the situation like the one facing Dannette Gillespie and the two teenagers, please know that we are ready for any charges you may be facing. Contact our Austin, Houston or San Antonio office to discuss your case today.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Local Candidate Charged with Deadly Conduct

As we are witnessing during this presidential year, candidates for public office can expect to have every detail of their lives scrutinized by the media and the general public. Are you really proud of your country? Are you claiming your daughter's baby as your own? Did you point a 12-gauge shotgun at your neighbor while she innocently steered her riding mower? This last question hasn't been asked of McCain or Obama ... yet, but is a relevant query for candidate Nick Ramus.

Mr. Ramus is running as the Republican candidate for Hays County Commissioner of Precinct One, an area located between Austin and San Antonio. He now must take some time away from kissing babies and attending neighborhood picnics to address charges of deadly conduct. His neighbor, Carolyn Logan, is accusing him of pointing a gun at her from across the fence that separates their properties. Ramus has asserted that his gun was pointed towards the ground at all times (that's comforting) and that there was nothing threatening about his actions. He claims that he merely forgot to put down the gun, which he was cleaning to prepare for dove hunting season, before attempting to speak with Ms. Logan about a construction worker who allegedly was trespassing.

Ramus was incredulous at the notion of dropping out of the face, as he insisted he did nothing wrong. However, the possible year in jail that he is facing for the Class A misdemeanor might pose a problem in his efforts to serve the people of Hays County. For now, he is free to continue his election efforts after posting a $5000.00 bail bond.

If you are being accused of pointing a weapon at someone with a similar street address, or any of a variety of other possible unneighborly offenses, we have criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP who can help you. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today to discuss your situation.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Houston Woman Claims Racial Bias in Home Loan

After gas prices, the area of our struggling economy that has received the most attention is the lending crisis in the housing industry. Almost every evening, it seems the news brings us another story of a family who faces foreclosure after being unable to afford increasing mortgage payments. Banks and lending companies don't exactly evoke warm and fuzzy feelings these days. There is the belief among many people that lenders took advantage of home buyers through confusing fine print and a housing bubble that was certain to bust. Can the case also be made that lenders developed the terms of the contracts with a racial bias? Nanette Lewis of Baytown, TX believes so, and she is taking her lenders to court.

Mrs. Lewis is suing both Alpha Mortgage USA Inc. and American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc, claiming that the companies practiced predatory lending on her because she is black. When she and her husband closed on their home in 2006, they were handed last-minute changes to their contract and simply told not to worry about them. As it turns out, perhaps a little bit of worrying would have been in order. The mortgage was for more than $175,000 on a home valued at about $156,000, including thousands of dollars in points and fees.

As far I can tell, the information disclosed surrounding the case so far shows no evidence that race was a factor in the contract details. But, perhaps future details will reveal such discrimination was at play. Mrs. Lewis is asking that the lien be removed from her home and that others are made aware of what happened to her.

This case appears to be the first of its kind to be filed in Texas. As with similar cases that have played out in other states, the debate between personal responsibility by the consumer and the obligation of lending companies to develop fair contracts will be critical.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize in business litigation as well as creditors' rights and collections. If you are a lender or contractor who is owed money from a client or if your business is being accused on unfair practices, please contact our Austin, Houston or San Antonio office for help today.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fatal Houston Fire Started by Home Owners for Insurance Money

You anticipate that certain mishaps may occur when you allow your son or daughter to spend the night at a friend's house. Perhaps the kids will irritate some innocent phone owners by making crank calls in the middle of the night. Or, maybe the young host will figure out the password to the restricted television channels after the adults have fallen asleep. And, there's simply the problem that your child will come home tired and cranky the next day. Whatever events transpire throughout the night, you certainly anticipate that your child will indeed make it back to your care. Unfortunately, Houston residents Rev. and Mrs. Raymond Lee Farley never got to welcome their son home after his night away.

Raymond Farley, Jr. was killed in a house fire while spending the night with David and Sharon Watkins and their two children five years ago. The true cause of the blaze had never been determined ... until last month. On August 19, Mr. and Mrs. Watkins were indicted on murder charges. It turns out that the couple started the fire in hopes of causing just enough damage to get a nice insurance settlement. They never expected the fire to consume the home, killing both Raymond Farley, Jr. and their own eight-year-old daughter.

Mr. and Mrs. Watkins are far from being novices at throwing matches on their place of residence. The couple had previously started at least five other fires at the same Houston home, collecting around $500,000 in insurance claims. I guess they thought they had developed a pretty good scheme. With two dead children resulting from their greed, however, a guilty conviction would put them in a cell without easy access to matches or other fire-inducing materials.

David Watkins turned himself into authorities and is now free on $50,000 bond. Sharon Watkins is in hiding and is believed to be staying with family or friends in the Houston area. If you know the whereabouts of Ms. Watkins, you are encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who will work tirelessly to make sure that you are given all of the rights guaranteed to those who have been accused of a crime. Whatever charges you may be facing, we have someone who can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Houston Teen Stuffed Mom's Corpse in Suitcase

Each generation thinks the one that follows it is disrespectful, lacking in morals and more selfish than their predecessors. More than 2000 years ago, Socrates said, "Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers." Those lines could just as easily have come right out of one of today's many parenting magazines. However, with the dangerous side of the internet, a constant barrage of images from the media, and a variety of other issues faced by so many families today, our fears for the upbringing of our young people seem to find an unprecedented number of sources these days. With the investigation this week involving two Houston teenagers, we are again left wondering what went wrong.

Gerson Funes-Reina, 19, is being charged with the murder of his girlfriend's mother after her body was found stuffed inside a suitcase. The discarded traveling accessory was discovered by a passerby on a secluded private road and investigation of the contents revealed a woman, Maria Rodriquez, who had been strangled. While the court documents state that the murder weapon was a "rope or unkown ligature," there apparently is no mention as to why the young man decided to commit such a heinous act.

Priscilla Rodriquez, who is only seventeen, apparently chose loyalty to her boyfriend over that towards her mother. She has confessed to helping Funes-Reina put the body in the suitcase and she has been charged with the abuse of a corpse.

As I mentioned many times before on this blog, the attorneys at Bertolino LLP believe that everyone is entitled to an aggressive and thorough defense when accused of a crime. This is the only way to ensure equal protection to everyone, both innocent and guilty. If you are in need of a criminal defense attorney, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office to discuss your case.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Austin Man Called a "Wimp" by Angry Telemarketer

Telemarketers seem to have an amazing sixth sense in knowing when you are just about to sit down to dinner or head out to your daughter's soccer game. I'm guilty of responding to the ring, thinking it might be an important call. Instead, I hear, "Good evening, Mr. Bertolino! How are you doing? Would you be interesting in hearing about some fantastic beachfront property we have available in Ohio this week? We are sharing this amazing deal just with a few lucky people!" I politely share my lack of a desire to hear any more of the fascinating script and hang up the phone. We all have had these abbreviated conversations. How many of us have dealt with a telemarketer who just couldn't let it go?

Austin resident Randall Whited claims that a telemarketer called back after he put down the receiver and said, "You just hang up, because what, you're not man enough to talk to me ... That was such a girl thing to do, wimp." Now, I am sure that making hundreds of phone calls every day to people who greet you with emotions ranging from apathy to blind hatred is a thankless job. I think, though, that the response to Mr. Whited could be deemed slightly unprofessional.

Mr. Whited managed to reach the telemarketer's supervisor, who refused to release either the name of the employee or the company. According to the Attorney General's Office, the company is violating regulations of the Federal Trade Commission by not releasing this information. While no specific legal action has been mentioned, Mr. Whited does intend to take this case to the fullest extent possible.

If your business employs a telemarketer who has a particularly bad day, Bertolino LLP is here to help. We have business law attorneys at our Austin, Houston and San Antonio offices who can assist you with any lawsuit you may be facing. Please contact our offices and let's discuss your case today.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy Labor Day

Tomorrow, I will return to blogging about current legal events. On this Labor Day, though, I hope that everyone is having the opportunity to relax with family and friends. The unofficial end of summer has arrived, with football, cooler weather and hundreds of political commercials now waiting for us.

The thoughts of everyone at Bertolino LLP are with those along the Gulf Coast as they deal with the effects of Hurricane Gustav today and throughout the weeks to come.