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Jose Yau  

Baylor's Jimmy Winston (24) pitching during the first inning against Oklahoma.

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Baylor depositions traumatizing rape victims again, attorney claims
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

UPDATE — Baylor attorneys: Depositions in sex assault suits were appropriate

An attorney for 15 plaintiffs suing Baylor University over its handling of their sexual assault cases is accusing Baylor’s attorneys of further traumatizing the women through marathon depositions in which no question is off-limits.

One former student was asked what kind of shorts she was wearing before the assault. Another was questioned about a psychological assessment performed before she donated a kidney to a stranger. Others were asked how deeply they were penetrated during the assault.

Other questions concerned the sexual assaults committed by one’s imprisoned stepfather and about lists one Jane Doe exchanged with girlfriends about boys they thought were cute.

Waco attorney Jim Dunnam listed his objections to how Baylor’s attorneys are treating the plaintiffs in his response to a defense motion that asks U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman to compel better compliance by the plaintiffs to their discovery requests, such as providing social media posts, text messages and communications between the women and Baylor’s Title IX office.

“Despite continued empty claims of praying and care for these young women, current Baylor leadership is directly responsible for this ongoing abuse being hurled upon these young women by Baylor’s lawyers,” Dunnam said. “This case is about decades of institutional discrimination against women at Baylor, conduct the board has admitted.

“This just shows the conduct continues. These brave girls have taken a stand for hundreds of Baylor rape survivors and continue to expose Baylor’s horrific conduct. Re-victimizing them will not silence them. Baylor evidently believes all 15 of these young women somehow asked to be raped. Regardless of this position, the level of detail in which Baylor is forcing them to relive these events is uncalled for and shameful,” Dunnam said.

Baylor spokesman Jason Cook declined comment on Dunnam’s motion and allegations. However, he noted that both Baylor attorneys asking questions during the depositions are female. Cook said Baylor will file a response to the motion next week.

“As expected, each Jane Doe is enduring 10 to 12 hours sitting through depositions and breaks,” Dunnam wrote in his response. “What is unexpected is the level of abuse being hurled upon them, as Baylor attempts to brand a scarlet letter on someone unfortunate enough to be raped. … Deposition questions probe every college/high school email, text and personal Facebook messages that Baylor deems as prurient, devoting hours of depositions over issues that have nothing to do with the resolution of this case, but instead belittle, harass, and further traumatize. Baylor forces each Jane Doe (most who have spent years trying to suppress or forget) to re-live the most miniscule details of their assaults.”

The plaintiffs’ treatment at the hands of Baylor’s lawyers is “disgusting and repulsive,” Dunnam said.

“Although the veracity of plaintiffs’ testimony of what happened to them arguably goes to issues of damage, it is largely irrelevant to liability issues, which focus on Baylor’s Title IX policies and procedures,” the motion states. “Because Baylor has admitted its policies and procedures were deficient and required no fewer than 105 remedial actions, Baylor has no other defense to this case other than to accuse all 15 of these plaintiffs as liars and attempt to send a message that continuation of this lawsuit will result in further trauma.”

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Vanguard students devote day to volunteering, honoring former student
 Brooke Crum  / 

Nineteen years after her death at age 15, the legacy of Emma Welter endures at Vanguard College Preparatory School.

Every spring, the about 200 students at the Waco private school for grades seven through 12 devote half a day to serving their community and honoring Emma, who died in a car wreck on her way to volunteer for the annual “Viking Volunteer Day.”

Emma had just gotten her learner’s permit and had her mother and brother with her in the car while she was driving to school on Feb. 9, 2000, when a dump truck hit the vehicle, according to Tribune-Herald archives. She died an hour later at the hospital.

A year later, the school named the service day after Emma to honor her generous spirit, and Friday, the students continued the tradition of service under a cloudless spring sky.

“There are so many opportunities in this community to give back to the community,” Head of School Bill Borg said. “If you don’t build habits early on in life, you’re not nearly as inclined to do them when you get older. We think introducing them to why you give back and why it’s important to help others is just part of what we do here.”

Students volunteered at 17 locations across Waco, from Mission Waco to Habitat for Humanity to Cameron Park Zoo. Some cleaned or pulled weeds. Others filed paperwork or helped organize offices.

Junior Aaron Leonard spent Friday morning at My Brother’s Keeper Homeless Shelter, operated by Mission Waco, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping and pulling weeds in the garden. He said the nonprofit was grateful for the help because it does not employ custodial staff, and volunteers are the facility’s only cleaners.

This was Aaron’s first Emma’s Day, as a recent transplant from China Spring. He said he enjoys volunteering wherever he is.

“I really think that people should help the community whenever they get a chance,” Aaron said. “Emma’s Day isn’t just about volunteering. It’s about coming together as a school and helping the community and building bonds with other people.”

Senior Hannah Brunner volunteered at the Carleen Bright Arboretum in Woodway, helping mulch trails that had been washed out by recent rains.

“It’s definitely a lot of fun. You get to bond with people from other grades and learn new names,” Brunner said. “It makes the community better for future generations, as well as gives older generations something to be proud of.”

Senior Trey Hooker stayed at Vanguard to help chop up and move a fallen tree on campus. Most seniors stay on campus to help with the noon cookout, but Hannah requested to go off campus for her last Emma’s Day.

Trey said he enjoys volunteering with friends and learning about the various organizations the students help. As an Eagle Scout, community service comes naturally to him.

“It doesn’t feel like working to me,” he said.

Borg, the head of school for the past 12 years, said Vanguard values soft skills students learn while volunteering and working together as much as the hard skills they acquire in class.

“We want them to be a well-rounded young adult,” he said. “Not everybody’s going to want to work with Friends for Life. Not everybody’s going to want to go down and restock the pantries, but they’ll find something if we give them those opportunities to see the depth and breadth of what’s available. They’ll find something that’s a passion for them, and they’ll continue to do that once they’ve gone off into what we all refer to as the ‘real world.’”

Trump 'strongly looking' at releasing migrants in Dem cities

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he is strongly considering releasing “Illegal Immigrants” into Democratic strongholds to punish congressional foes for inaction on the border — just hours after White House and Homeland Security officials insisted the idea had been rejected as fast as it had been proposed.

“Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only,” Trump tweeted. He added that, “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy — so this should make them very happy!”

He later told reporters that he was “strongly looking at” the idea of releasing migrant families into those communities, though there were no immediate plans in place to implement Trump’s threat.

“They’re always saying they have open arms. Let’s see if they have open arms,” he said.

The reversal, which appeared to catch officials at the Department of Homeland Security off guard, came as critics were blasting news that the White House had at least twice considered a plan to release detained immigrants into so-called sanctuary cities, using migrants as pawns to go after political opponents.

Before Trump’s comments, both the Department of Homeland Security and a White House official had insisted in nearly identical statements that that plan had been floated but then flatly rejected.

But not, apparently, by the president, who emphatically revived the idea.

“Sanctuary cities” are places where local authorities do not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, denying information or resources that would help ICE round up for deportation people living in the country illegally.

They include New York City and San Francisco, home city of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who on Friday called the idea “unworthy of the presidency of the United States and disrespectful of the challenges that we face as a country, as a people, to address who we are — a nation of immigrants.”

The idea of pressing immigration authorities to embrace the plan was discussed in November and then again in February as the Trump administration struggled with a surge of migrants at the border, according to three people who spoke on condition of anonymity to outline private conversations. Homeland Security and ICE lawyers quickly rejected the proposal, according to the people, and it was dropped on the grounds that it was complicated, too expensive and a misuse of funds, two of the people said.

The plan, which was first reported by the Washington Post, is one of many ideas considered by an increasingly frustrated White House in recent months as Trump has railed against the growing number of Central American migrant families crossing the southern border and looked for new ways to increase leverage on congressional Democrats to change laws that Trump insists are making the problem worse.

Officials say they are running out of options, and have proposed and recycled numerous ideas that have never come to fruition. Trump in recent weeks has discussed the idea of renewing his administration’s controversial family separation policy.

There were at least two versions of the sanctuary city plan that were considered, according to one of the people familiar with the effort. One would have moved people who had already been detained and were being held elsewhere to places with Democratic opponents of the president, while the other would have transported migrants apprehended at the border directly to San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and other spots.

ICE arrests people in the U.S. illegally and also manages migrants who present themselves at border crossings and ask for asylum. The surge of migrant families arriving at the southern border has been taxing the system, forcing ICE to set free more than 125,000 people as they await court hearings — a practice Trump has derided as “catch and release.” With immigrant processing and holding centers overwhelmed, the administration has also been busing people hundreds of miles inland and releasing them at Greyhound stations and churches in cities such as Albuquerque, San Antonio and Phoenix because towns close to the border already have more than they can handle.

Federal court rules prohibit the detention of children longer than 20 days.

Revelation of the “sanctuary cities” plan drew immediate condemnation from Pelosi and other Democrats.

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who chairs the House Homeland Security committee, said: “The fact that this idea was even considered — not once but twice — serves as a reminder that the Trump Administration’s reckless immigration agenda is not about keeping the country safe, but about partisan politics and wantonly inflicting cruelty.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security denies that Trump “indicated, asked, directed or pressured” Kevin McAleenan to do anything illegal.

Last week Trump urged his soon-to-be acting homeland security secretary to seal the southern border and told McAleenan he would pardon him if he were to find himself in trouble for blocking legal asylum-seekers. That’s according to two people familiar with the conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private exchange.

It was not clear whether the president was joking, and a Homeland Security spokesman said in a statement: “At no time has the president indicated, asked, directed or pressured the acting secretary to do anything illegal.”

The reported conversation came during the president’s trip last week to Calexico, California.

Transporting large groups of immigrants to distant cities would be expensive and burdensome for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is already strapped for cash. The agency has said it doesn’t have the resources for immigrants processed by the Border Patrol and Border Patrol in most southern border sectors and is now instead releasing families after a health screening and criminal background check, leaving local nonprofits to help them make travel arrangements.

Flights chartered by ICE cost about $7,785 per flight hour, according to the agency. They require multiple staffers, including an officer who coordinates, several others who fly and monitor passengers and an in-flight medical professional. The agency also uses commercial flights but requires that migrants to pay for those. It’s unclear if that would be the case for families, who usually arrive with no money and rely on relatives already in the U.S. to pay for transportation.

Still, many “sanctuary” communities would likely welcome the immigrants in question and have nonprofit legal groups that could help them strengthen their legal cases to stay in the country.

Matt Albence, ICE’s new acting director, denied the White House pressured immigration officials to implement the idea when he was serving as deputy.

“I was asked my opinion and provided it, and my advice was heeded,” he said in a statement.

The Department of Health and Human Services said this week that it had started scouting vacant properties that could be turned into facilities for holding migrant children in several cities, including Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and San Antonio.

Those facilities would be licensed by each state and likely take several months to be approved and opened, separating them from the rapidly expanding emergency shelter at Homestead, Florida, and the now-closed tent facility at Tornillo, Texas.

The Defense Department has also been reviewing a number of military bases to find a location that can house up to 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children as the U.S. braces for a surge of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this spring. Health and Human Services submitted the request for space last month, as Homeland Security leaders warned that tens of thousands of families were crossing the border each month.

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Judge denies reduction of $1 million bond for murder defendant
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

A judge denied a request from a man charged with murder to reduce his bond at a hearing Friday attended by almost a dozen family members of the victim dressed in matching shirts featuring her picture and a Bible verse.

Because of the potential emotional turmoil created by the family’s presence, 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother conducted the hearing in his chambers.

Abel Reyna, court-appointed to represent Quest Aljabaughn Jones in the murder case, asked Strother to reduce Jones’ $1 million bond, calling the bond amount set by 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson “excessive.”

Friday’s proceeding was the first criminal hearing Reyna, former McLennan County district attorney, has been involved in since he left office at the end of December.

Jones, 28, is charged with murder in the Feb. 3 shooting death of 26-year-old Sherrell Carter while their three young children were in an adjacent room at the home they shared in the 5600 block of Wilshire Drive.

Strother met with prosecutors and Reyna in his office and announced only that he was denying Reyna’s motion to reduce the bond. His announcement was met with “Thank the Lord,” shouted by a member of Carter’s family.

Reyna, who was a criminal defense lawyer before he served two terms as district attorney, works now for the law firm Patterson and Sheridan. He declined to discuss details of his conference in the judge’s chambers.

“While we might disagree with the judge, we certainly respect his decision and we look forward to trial,” Reyna said.

Members of Carter’s family, including her mother, Freda Brown, and sister, Iryon Brown, wore matching green shirts with “Justice for Sherrell Carter” and a verse from John 16 that says, “And ye now therefore have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” on the back.

While they declined to discuss the case because it is a pending matter, they said they were there to support their loved one.

According to court documents, Jones called police to his home about 3:30 a.m. Feb. 3. When officers arrived, they reported finding him outside wearing only shorts and socks with blood on his socks and body.

Court records say it was unclear if the children witnessed the murder, but reports indicate Jones told police that an intruder shot Carter and his 3-year-old son witnessed it.

Family members told police Jones has a history of violence toward Carter and that there were several unreported domestic violence incidents during their tumultuous seven-year relationship, according to court documents. Carter tried to break up with Jones several times but returned after Carter threatened her, court records state.

Police also arrested Jones that morning on possession of marijuana and possession of liquid THC charges.