Year in Review: Crime, Immigration, the Border

Prosecutorial misconduct, violence at youth lockups, the politics of immigration and continuing bloodshed in the Mexican drug war were among the dominant Tribune headlines in 2012. Here's a look back at the crime, immigration and border stories of the year.

Criminal justice

In the realm of criminal justice in Texas, 2012 was dominated by Michael Morton and renewed scandals at the state juvenile justice agency.

Following his exoneration after spending nearly 25 years wrongly imprisoned for his wife's 1986 murder, Morton in 2012 became the face of the criminal justice reform movement and of calls for prosecutorial accountability in Texas. In January, a state district judge agreed to launch an unusual court of inquiry that will examine whether Williamson County State District Judge Ken Anderson, who prosecuted Morton in 1987, committed criminal acts of misconduct by hiding evidence that Morton's lawyers argue might have led to his acquittal. That process is scheduled to start Feb. 4. Anderson, who has denied any wrongdoing in Morton's case, is also facing discipline by the State Bar of Texas, including potential disbarment.

The DNA testing that led to Morton's exoneration also touched off a chain of momentous events in other cases. This year, Mark Norwood, the man whose DNA was identified near the scene of Christine Morton's murder, was also indicted in the 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker. Norwood's DNA was identified on a pubic hair at the scene of her murder. And Travis County officials began investigating whether additional DNA evidence might be available for testing in a third murder case.

 

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department got a new leader this year after reports of violence among youths and attacks on staff. The ombudsman reported at one point that the state's largest youth lockup was essentially under the control of powerful ringleaders at the facility. Lawmakers were outraged over the latest problems at the agency they thought they had reformed after abuse scandals in 2007 and called for immediate changes.

After a decade of fighting against DNA testing, the state finally agreed this year to allow Hank Skinner the analysis the death row inmate hopes will prove that he is innocent of the murder for which he was convicted. Initial results weren't favorable to Skinner, but the testing continues.

Below are links to some of the Tribune's top criminal justice stories this year:

State Backs DNA Testing for Hank Skinner 

Mark Norwood Indicted in Second Austin Murder

State Bar Seeks Disciplinary Action Against Anderson

John Bradley Eyes New Prosecuting Job

Michael Morton Talks About Ordeal, Life After Prison

 

Texas Will Change Its Lethal Injection Protocol

The Consequences of Prosecutorial Mistakes

New Doubts Arise in Case Surrounding 1985 Murder

Report: Youths Wield Control at State's Largest Lockup

After Reform, Violence Up Among Youth Offenders

Report: Youths Wield Control at State's Largest Lockup

Immigration

Federal action and Gov. Rick Perry’s stint as a GOP presidential candidate kept state immigration issues in the forefront in 2012 despite the absence of lawmakers from the Capitol.

Immigration was one of Perry’s Achilles heels on the campaign trail. Many predicted the end of his campaign hopes after he told his opponents during a debate that they were heartless if they objected to a bill he signed in 2001 that allowed in-state tuition for some undocumented immigrants. 

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key provision of Arizona’s controversial immigration bill, SB 1070. The “papers, please” provision paves the way for local law enforcement officers to verify the legal status of people they stop or arrest.

Lawmakers in Texas saw the Supreme Court's decision as a green light for similar legislation that failed to pass during the Texas legislative session in 2011.

Republicans at the state party's convention in June, though, indicated their tune on immigration may change in the upcoming legislative session. Party leaders and delegates voted to include in the Texas GOP platform a call for a national guest-worker program.

The platform is nonbinding, but some lawmakers who opposed the “sanctuary cities” proposal — which would allow local officers to check subjects' immigration status — could use the document to urge party leaders to back away from hardline state-based immigration measures. The November election, which saw Latinos turn out in large numbers to support President Obama, will probably add to that conversation. Analysts said that Hispanic voters were concerned about the administration’s record-high deportation numbers, but added that voters' support for Obama was a rebuke of the GOP’s stance on immigration.

Below are links to some of the Tribune's top immigration-related stories this year.

Key Tenet of AZ Immigration Law Upheld; Others Struck

Texans React to SCOTUS Ruling on Arizona Law

For Texas GOP, a New Position on Immigration Reform

Industry Leaders: Immigration Reform Begins in Texas

Rep. McCaul: Immigration Reform Possible Next Session

State-Based Immigration Bills Slowly Trickling In

The border and Mexico

Border cities in Texas again ranked among some of the country’s safest despite continuing carnage in Mexican cities just across the Rio Grande. In Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, the killings that have garnered headlines across the world since 2008 subsided in 2012. The city of more than 1.2 million people is on pace to have witnessed about 800 murders this year, a considerable dip from the thousands in years past. But in Nuevo Laredo, where a tally is more difficult to determine because of organized crime’s stranglehold on the media, violence and murders are commonplace.

Events this year have state lawmakers and law enforcement officials hopeful that the situation in Mexico, and especially along the border, will improve. Atop that list is the election in July of Enrique Peña Nieto, 46, the former governor of the state of Mexico and the first member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to lead the nation since 1994. He has promised to keep the battle against the cartels at the forefront of his presidency. U.S. lawmakers are waiting to see if Peña Nieto’s ascension means a return of the iron-fistedness and corruption that held sway during the 70 years when the PRI held power. Peña Nieto was sworn in Dec. 1.

Despite the violence, trade between Mexico and Texas continues to climb. Mexico’s economy has grown at a faster rate than in the United States, providing an economic boost to Texas.

The year also witnessed several blows to organized crime in Mexico. Among them was the death in October of Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, a former army commando and the leader of the Zetas cartel, which he helped found after defecting from the military. It was one of the biggest coups for the government, which has been fighting organized crime since 2006, when former President Felipe Calderón took office. But his death also made room for a successor, Miguel Treviño Morales, known as, “40,” who is wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking and murder charges. He is still at large and blamed for much of the violence raging in Tamaulipas and other parts of northern Mexico.

Below are links to some of the Tribune's top border stories this year.

Texas Keeps Close Eye on Mexico's Presidential Race

In Texas, Caution, Optimism Greet Mexican Election

Mexican Military Seen as Best Option Against Cartels

Mexicans Seeking Refuge Come Together to Speak Out

After 20 Years, NAFTA Draws Praise and Controversy

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.