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New judge denies defense motion to drop Oakman charges, testimony to begin
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

The trial of former Baylor University football player Shawn Oakman got off to a rocky start, with the recusal of the judge Monday and the specter of prosecutorial misconduct hanging over the case before a jury was selected Tuesday afternoon.

Retired State District Judge Michael Snipes, of Dallas, denied defense motions Tuesday morning to dismiss the sexual assault charge against the 26-year-old and to disqualify prosecutors Robert Moody, Hilary LaBorde and Gabe Price from participating in Oakman’s trial.

Snipes denied the motions after a two-hour hearing in which 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother, Moody and Price testified about a Feb. 20 meeting the three had — without the knowledge of defense attorneys Alan Bennett and Jessi Freud — to talk about 11 envelopes in Oakman’s file that Strother had sealed, including defense subpoena applications.

After the hearing, Snipes presided over a four-hour jury selection process and set testimony to start at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Oakman, 26, is accused of sexually assaulting a Baylor student at his off-campus duplex in April 2016, after his football career at Baylor was over. He has said he and the woman had a previous relationship and that the sexual encounter in question was consensual.

Snipes was appointed to take over the case after Strother voluntarily removed himself Monday in the wake of the defense motions filed by Bennett and Freud, including one to recuse the judge. Jury selection had been set to start Monday morning, but the defense motions postponed matters while the regional administrative judge searched for another judge to hear the case.

The defense attorneys alleged in motions that Moody’s and Price’s meeting with Strother without notifying the defense violated ethical standards and Oakman’s right to a fair trial and adequate defense.

Price and Moody testified Tuesday that they met with the judge because they noticed a number of sealed documents in Oakman’s file, including subpoena applications, which are required to remain open and cannot be sealed. Strother said if he sealed the subpoenas, it was done in error. So he ordered the district clerk’s office to unseal them, allowing Moody to receive copies, including medical records from Baylor Scott & White Medical Center, that previously were sealed.

The law allows defense attorneys to meet privately with a judge and ask for documents to be sealed, such as confidential medical records, information from defense expert witnesses and other investigative materials. Bennett argued that by unsealing the records without notifying the defense, Strother allowed the state access to defense trial strategies, expert analysis and theories that procedure allows to remain sealed and confidential to ensure a defendant’s right to fair trial.

First Assistant District Attorney Nelson Barnes argued that the sole item gleaned from the sealed documents that the state was not already aware of pertained to an unrelated hospital trip by the alleged victim in Oakman’s case. Barnes said Moody and Price merely met with the judge to ask if the subpoenas were sealed because it was “irregular” and there is no authority to seal them.

Strother testified that he was in the middle of a trial when the prosecutors hurriedly came in during a break. They did not discuss the case, and he only ordered the files unsealed as a matter of law, the judge said.

Bennett, however, argued that Strother would not have unsealed the files if not for what he called the inappropriate meeting with the prosecutors. He said if they wanted the files unsealed, the prosecutors should have filed a motion, scheduled a hearing and provided the defense and chance to address the matter instead of meeting alone with the judge in what is known as ex parte communication.


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Baylor unveils bust honoring its 1st black professor, 24 years after her death
 Phillip Ericksen  / 

The overdue nature of Baylor University’s efforts to honor Vivienne Malone-Mayes, the school’s first black professor, was not lost on the attendees of a ceremony Tuesday afternoon recognizing Malone-Mayes’ legacy as a scholar, civic leader and civil rights activist.

An overflow crowd of some 100 people packed the third-floor lobby of the Sid Richardson Building at Baylor as the institution that denied Malone-Mayes admission as a graduate student in 1961 because of her race acknowledged her achievements and unveiled a bust of her.

She taught at Baylor from 1966 to 1994.

“For years, people have asked me, ‘What has Baylor done to honor your mom?’ ” Malone-Mayes’ daughter, Patsyanne Wheeler, said. “And because she had a humble spirit, I would always say, ‘Oh, they’ve been pretty good to her.’

“But now, I can truly say that Baylor University has stepped up, showed out and made us proud.”

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Participants in Tuesday’s ceremony line up to take photos of the newly unveiled bust.

The 50-pound, 2-foot bust will be displayed at the lobby in a clear case next to an educational display about her life. A Waco native and A.J. Moore High School graduate, Malone-Mayes earned her doctorate degree from the University of Texas at Austin after Baylor denied her admission into graduate courses.

Baylor President Linda Livingstone said ceremonies like Tuesday’s remind the university it has “a long way to go” in its pursuit of a more inclusive campus. Malone-Mayes was more than just a titan of her field, Livingstone said.

“More than the things that she did, was the person that she was and the values that she represented,” Livingstone said. “I’m especially touched by her bravery and her courage through extremely challenging times to stand up for what she believed in, to do it with pride and grace, and to really stand up for justice in the midst of extreme persecution at not an easy time to do that.”

Staff photos — Rod Aydelotte  

Baylor University President Linda Livingstone (left) hugs Patsyanne Wheeler, Vivienne Malone-Mayes’ daughter, during a ceremony to honor Malone-Mayes, the university’s first black professor.

Robert Darden, a Baylor journalism professor and former Tribune-Herald reporter, was a driving force behind the ceremony. After he saw Malone-Mayes’ gravesite at Greenwood Cemetery vandalized in 2017, Darden sparked campuswide discussions about how she could be recognized by the university more than two decades after her death in 1995.

He said the best way to honor her legacy would be for Baylor to better commit to hiring diverse faculty members and administrators. Less than 7 percent of Baylor’s faculty is African-American, he said.

“We call ourselves a Christian school, and I believe, everybody believes, it works toward that goal,” Darden said. “But we have to be better than the world in this. We have to be better. And if they call us hypocrites, it’s our own fault. But we have got to do better.”

He said he remembers seeing Malone-Mayes on campus during his freshman year and at a football game that year.

“She was most alone person I’d ever seen in my life,” Darden said.

Malone-Mayes’ death came two days before the death of former Baylor President Abner McCall, according to the university. Darden said their funerals were held at the same time, and most of the Baylor community attended McCall’s.

Also in attendance at Tuesday’s ceremony was Edray Goins, a math professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California, and president of the National Association of Mathematicians, an organization Malone-Mayes helped start as a resource to minorities in the field.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Baylor University math department Chairman Lance Littlejohn (left) speaks with Edray Goins, president of the National Association of Mathematicians, during Tuesday's ceremony. Malone-Mayes helped start the association, which promotes and supports underrepresented members of the field.

Goins, who took a red-eye flight early Tuesday to attend the ceremony, was profiled in The New York Times last week in an article that noted less than 1 percent of doctorate degrees are awarded to African-Americans.

“It can be debilitating, and it can cause you to question your own worth, but Dr. Malone persisted,” Goins said Tuesday.

He told the story of Malone-Mayes being denied a seat in classes and study sessions at UT taught by Robert Lee Moore, a mathematician who discriminated against Jewish people, black people and women.

“My mathematical isolation is complete,” Goins recounted Malone-Mayes saying in 1975.

Lance Littlejohn, chairman of Baylor’s math department, thanked Malone-Mayes’ family and supporters throughout the ceremony and said he is relieved to see her legacy properly, and finally, recognized.

Associated Press — Minh Hoang 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (center) arrives at the Vietnamese border town of Dong Dang ahead of his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

United Methodist delegates reject recognizing gay marriage

ST. LOUIS — The United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination, faces a likely surge in defections and acts of defiance after delegates at a crucial conference voted Tuesday to strengthen the faith’s divisive bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy.

Emotions were high throughout the third and final day of the UMC’s meeting. Some supporters of greater LGBT inclusion were in tears, while others vented their anger when, midway through the session, delegates defeated a proposal that would have let regional and local church bodies decide for themselves on gay-friendly policies.

“Devastation,” was how former Methodist pastor Rebecca Wilson of Detroit described her feelings. “As someone who left because I’m gay, I’m waiting for the church I love to stop bringing more hate.”

After several more hours of debate, the conservatives’ proposal, called the Traditional Plan, was approved by a vote of 438-384. Opponents unsuccessfully sought to weaken the plan with hostile amendments or to prolong the debate past a mandatory adjournment time set to accommodate a monster truck rally in the arena. One delegate even requested an investigation into the possibility that “vote buying” was taking place at the conference.

The Traditional Plan’s success was due to an alliance of conservatives from the U.S. and overseas. About 43 percent of the delegates were from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly supported the LGBT bans.

If the bans were eased, “the church in Africa would cease to exist,” said the Rev. Jerry Kulah of Liberia. “We can’t do anything but to support the Traditional Plan — it is the biblical plan.”

Council of Bishops President Kenneth H. Carter, speaking afterward , said the meeting was necessary “because of the impasse we found ourselves in” over questions of human sexuality. “I would just simply say that we have work to do. We did not accomplish that in these three days,” Carter said.

Carter said he is concerned the plan will cause progressive churches to leave the denomination. He said leaders “will be doing a lot of outreach” to those churches. “Persons will feel harmed,” Carter said.

The deep split within the church was evident in several fiery speeches opposing the Traditional Plan.

“If we bring this virus into our church, it will bring illness to us all,” said the Rev. Thomas Berlin of Herndon, Virginia. He predicted many churchgoers and some regional bodies would leave the church, while others would “stay and fight,” performing same-sex weddings even if it meant punishment.

Many supporters of the more liberal plan stood in support as Berlin spoke. Some wore rainbow-motif garments or sat behind rainbow banners. After the vote, a small group of protesters carried a cross to the stage at the conference and sat around it. Another group of about 200 people staged a peaceful sit-down protest while about two dozen police officers watched.

The Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, a pastor from Portland, Maine, pledged defiance of the Traditional Plan, tweeting: “I will not participate in your bigotry, sin & violence.”

An association of Methodist theological schools warned that if the Traditional Plan passes, the church “will lose an entire generation of leaders in America.”

Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the United States.

While other mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches, have embraced gay-friendly practices, the Methodist church still bans them, though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied. Many have performed same-sex weddings; others have come out as gay or lesbian from the pulpit

Enforcement of the bans has been inconsistent; the Traditional Plan aspires to beef up discipline against those engaged in defiance.

The Rev. Tim Bagwell, 64, pastor at a UMC church in Macon, Georgia, had opposed the Traditional Plan and called the outcome “deeply painful.” But he said his church will stay with UMC until at least 2020, when the next major conference is scheduled. He’s hopeful new delegates will be elected and change course to a more inclusive church.

“I am deeply sad,” he said. “The Methodist church has always been mainstream, reaching out to people. This sends a different tone ... one of exclusion, not inclusion.”

The Rev. Scott Hagan, 45, a pastor from Bonaire, Georgia, supported the Traditional Plan, saying the liberals’ alternative would have sent a mixed message.

“To have each church — possibly in the same town — offering a different perspective and practice would surely be confusing to the public that comes to the church looking for guidance,” Hagan said.

Waco Family Y closes hot tub amid Legionnaires' investigation

As health authorities investigate two local cases of Legionnaires’ disease, the Waco Family Y has closed a hot tub area where exposure to the Legionella bacteria may have occurred.

The area’s flagship YMCA at 6800 Harvey Road remained open this week, but its officials on Monday closed the whirlpool area adjacent to an indoor pool after consulting with the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, YMCA President and CEO Rodney Martin said.

“The health and wellness of our members and guests are our highest priority to our Y,” Martin said in a statement.

Health district officials said they believe the two patients contracted the Legionella bacteria between Feb. 4 and Feb. 21. In addition to the type of pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ disease, the bacteria can also cause a milder illness called Pontiac fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Someone can become sick after breathing in mist or accidentally swallowing water containing Legionella, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has come down with pneumonia-like symptoms within two weeks of visiting the Waco Family Y this month should see a health care provider, said health district spokeswoman Kelly Craine.

Disease symptoms

Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, headaches, or other pneumonia-like symptoms, according to the CDC.

Craine said once the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District was notified of the cases, its staff began working backward to find a common denominator between the two patient. The Waco Family YMCA has hired a health-district approved water management company to test the water, she said.

“The hot tub has been closed and it is the only area that’s been closed,” she said. “That’s mainly because the conditions of the hot tub in general. Because of the mist, you always want to look at the hot tub as a possible suspect.”

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious illness, but it cannot be contracted from another person, she said.

“The risk is low to develop it and that’s why we always immediately respond when someone does get it, because it’s an unusual situation,” Craine said. “The risk is specific to people that have been to the Y and specifically in a water system. This is not exposure that you’d be at risk for catching if you did not visit the Y.”

This is the first report of Legionnaires’ disease this year, Craine said.

Two cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in guests who stayed last summer at the Fairfield Inn and Suites Waco North, 4257 N. Interstate 35 in Lacy Lakeview. The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District had previously required the hotel to notify guests in August 2017 after four cases of the disease were reported in guests dating back to October 2016.

In January, a Waco attorney filed a lawsuit against the hotel and its corporate owner, alleging he contracted the disease during his six-day stay there.

In 2016, health departments reported about 6,100 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States, and almost 7,500 cases in 2017, according to the CDC. The disease, however, is often underdiagnosed, according to the CDC. Roughly one in 10 people who catch the disease die, according to the CDC.

Anyone with questions can contact the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District at 750-5411.