Up To Date on '98

In real life, stories don't end with "happily ever after." They roll forward with no regard for narrative neatness: The prince becomes king; he files for divorce; Cinderella writes a tell-all book; the kids date topless dancers and form a post-punk band. And so on.

With such developments in mind, we thought we'd revisit a few of the Press's stories from the past year, and even a couple from previous years. As you'll see, sometimes our heroes have triumphed; sometimes they've suffered. Sometimes crimes have led to punishment; other times they've gone unsolved. Lawsuits drag on. Careers end. Fresh starts are attempted.

In real life, the stories are never finished.

About a month after the Press detailed Major Lynna Kay Shuffield's woes as a member of the all-volunteer Texas State Guard ("The Old Guard," January 29), she was summarily dismissed by her commanding officer, Colonel Kenneth Kubasik. The Guard never paid her back wages, and Shuffield says the Guard's third "investigation" of her complaints of assault, retaliation and harassment was finally issued the day after her discharge, half a year after it was begun. Another officer who complained to the Press of misappropriation of funds, unwarranted promotions and record tampering was discharged from the Guard as well, in what Shuffield's fellow malcontents call a purging of the ranks.

The Guard shows no signs of cleaning up its act. Since March, Major David E. Wright has been charged in Harris County with two counts of indecency with a child, reportedly the teenage daughter of a subordinate Guard member. And according to former National Guard warrant officer Harvey Gough, the National Guard Bureau is investigating the Adjutant General and his staff, which oversees the National Guard and the State Guard, for anti-Semitism; the AG's assistant chief of staff, Colonel Dennis Morreale, says the charges are unsubstantiated.

Those who might whip the Guard into shape have done little. Shuffield and company testified at the April meeting of the Texas House Committee on State, Federal and International Relations, and the Subcommittee on Military and Veteran Affairs was asked to look into their allegations. But Shuffield says the subcommittee, chaired by Representative Miguel Wise, has yet to give her a call. (Shaila Dewan)

Last spring two unlikely combatants squared off in Harris County family court for the custody of a three-year-old African-American child, Franklin Chatman ("The Fight for Franklin," February 26). Lawyer James Moore, an Anglo with no biological relationship to the boy, had previously won temporary custody, claiming the boy's mother had abused and abandoned him. The mother, Susanne Collins, denied those charges and claimed that Moore was using his legal expertise to steal her child.

Franklin's grandmother, schoolteacher Virginia Howard, sued for his return, backed by Child Protective Services of Harris County. The case became a cause celebre in Houston's black community, with state Representative Ron Wilson joining the Chatman legal team as co-counsel. A jury sided with the plaintiffs and returned full custody of the boy to his grandmother.

Supporters of the family celebrated the victory and Franklin's fourth birthday with a party at the Shape Community Center. CPS spokeswoman Judy Hay says that since then, by all indications, the boy has made a satisfactory adjustment to his new home. Howard reports that Franklin attends preschool at the elementary where she teaches, and that he's happy, well adjusted and well ahead of his age group. (Tim Fleck)

In April 1997, 12-year-old Laura Smither left her home for a morning jog and never came back ("Looking for Laura," March 12). After a massive search led by the citizens of Friendswood, her decapitated body was found in retention pond. Five months later, Friendswood police chief Jared Stout raised the eyebrows of his law enforcement peers by naming William Reece as the prime suspect in the Smither murder. To date, Reece has been found guilty of kidnapping a woman in nearby Webster -- but no one has been charged in connection with Smither's murder. (Steve McVicker)

Last spring, the Press wrote about the community of Beach City's fight to stop a proposed industrial landfill in Chambers County, within a mile of Trinity Bay ("Waste Not, Want Not," March 12). Though the battle still rages, the citizens fighting the landfill have won several significant skirmishes and now appear to have the upper hand.

As expected, Chambers County passed an ordinance prohibiting a landfill at that location. Soon thereafter, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, which controls the cumbersome permitting process, stopped the developer's application in midstream. The actions, significant setbacks for the developer, TSP Corp., prompted a pair of lawsuits that may take years to resolve.

In a related matter, landfill opponents also sued the property owner, USX Corp., for illegally destroying more than nine acres of wetlands. That suit is slated for trial in February. (Bob Burtman)

The year ended on a disastrous note for two defendants in the federal Hotel Six sting of City Hall insiders ("Take the Cash and Talk That Cash," March 19). In the second trial of former city councilman Ben Reyes and former port commissioner Betti Maldonado, a jury took only six hours to convict both of conspiring to bribe members of City Council.

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