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Statement from Equality Texas on Austin Hate Crime
Posted on August 20, 2011 at 10:49 pm

The murders of Norma Hurtado and her mother, Maria Hurtado, on Monday, April 18, 2011 are yet another tragic example of the devastating effects of homophobia in our society.

Austin police say the man charged in Monday’s deadly shootings, Jose Alfonso Aviles, was upset that his daughter was involved with another woman.

The nature of the Texas James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act currently prevents the Austin Police Department and the City of Austin from designating these murders a hate crime.

Two women have been murdered because one of them was a lesbian.
Equality Texas can emphatically state that these homicides were a hate crime.

Our state’s hate crimes law does not provide for charging someone with the offense of “hate crime”. Our state’s hate crimes law is a penalty enhancement statute. It provides for increased penalties upon conviction of an offense if a prosecutor demonstrates that the crime was motivated by bias.  The decision to use the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act is made by a prosecutor, not by a law enforcement official.

In this immediate case, Mr. Aviles is being held on a capital murder warrant. The offense of capital murder carries the highest available penalties. Our state’s hate crimes law would not provide any additional enhanced penalty.

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.

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