By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
LULAC has led countless civil rights advances, but this time it isn't fighting for equality for elementary school students, or victims of police abuse, or job applicants shut out because of their race.
This time it's fighting for the right to interview a serial killer.
Spanish-language television networks and local stations have been livid because the Railcar Killer, Angel Maturino Resendiz, has been responding to their interview requests by saying he'd love to chat, but prison officials are forcing him to do English-language interviews first.
"I am not allowed to speak to Univision," Resendiz wrote recently to Deanna Landron, assignments editor for KXLN Channel 45, the Houston affiliate for the Spanish-language network. "I was told that I must speak to the American media [first] if I want to speak to Univision."
Landron says the normally cooperative Larry Fitzgerald, who handles media requests for death row inmates, has been ducking her phone calls for three weeks.
The Mexican consulate has gotten involved, and LULAC dashed off a letter September 23 to U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee.
"It is common knowledge that Hispanic television and print media as well as the rest of the minority media are not given adequate credit for the fine work they do," LULAC's Johnny Mata wrote. "But now the Hispanic media is being denied access to interview Maturino Resendiz."
The brouhaha got to be all too much for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and TDCJ spokesman Glen Castlebury, Fitzgerald's boss, has thrown up his hands and let Resendiz pick his interviewer.
"I sent Larry Fitzgerald to Resendiz with a list of everyone who wanted to interview him, and I told Larry to get him to number that list sequentially," said the famously blunt Castlebury. "I told him Resendiz wouldn't know what the hell "sequentially' meant, but to explain it to him, and we'd just go down the list."
So on October 4, the next day scheduled for death row interviews, the world will begin to know the great thoughts of the Railcar Killer, thoughts that until now have been confined largely to rambling and incoherent letters.
Castlebury won't say who's No. 1 on Resendiz's hit list (or No. 12, if you count the people he's admitted murdering), because it wouldn't be fair to tell one media outlet what another is doing. But he acknowledges that all five outlets approved for October 4 are headquartered "south of Brownsville."
Castlebury won't say if the outlets are exclusively Spanish-language media, because he insists TDCJ was prioritizing interview requests on the basis of geography, not language. The first media outlet to complain about Resendiz was TV Azteca, Mexico's national network.
"When it comes to the Public Information Office using its very limited resources, Texas media gets first priority," he says. "That is a very provincial policy that I do not apologize for." Of course, Landron's television station, an affiliate of Los Angeles-based Univision, is as Texan as KPRC-TV, an affiliate of New York-based NBC.
There have been complaints in the past that TDCJ screens interview requests in order to keep bad publicity away.
Death row inmates like Gary Graham and Joseph Faulder, the first Canadian in almost 50 years to be executed in the United States, became causes célèbres that drew an avalanche of interview requests.
And French television networks were rebuffed in their efforts to interview Roy Criner, who was released after a decade in prison earlier this year when DNA evidence cleared him.
Castlebury says he didn't have much trouble with the Canadian media, but he obviously has no love for those snooping Europeans.
"You get a telephone call from French TV, you don't know if you're talking to an anchor or Amnesty International," he says. "They'll whip out a microphone or some writ from the World Court with equal aplomb, and it's just a lot of shit for us.So it's not really surprising that our first reaction is to turn to Texas media and not get real exercised when some consulate screams at us."
Good vs. Evil
It's not very often that you read a story that features hot tubs, champagne and our very own U.S. Representative Tom DeLay, the Torquemada of Sugar Land, but such an unlikely event has indeed occurred.
The Capitol Hill publication Roll Call reported September 21 that "lobbyists were buzzing about a wild trip that [DeLay] and some of his top political supporters took to Las Vegas over the weekend."
DeLay's Vegas suite had a hot tub, Roll Call reported. "Among the revelers was DeLay's daughter, Dani Ferro. "There were a lot of lobbyists in the hot tub, pouring champagne on each other,' said one source familiar with the trip."
The next day's Washington Post picked up the story. "After the party," the article said, "Ferro told associates that a lobbyist poured champagne on her while she was in the hot tub."
There was no word on all this alleged decadence from Houston's Leading Information Source -- until Sunday, September 24, in the weekly column devoted to Washington nuggets.
"Accounts of the party, published in the Washington Post and Roll Call, have DeLay aides steamed," the Chronicle wrote. A DeLay aide told the paper that "a totally innocent thing has been blown terribly out of proportion."
The aide's account, as paraphrased by the Chron: "Ferro and a handful of friends and associates stayed behind as the party wound down. Ferro and a female colleague donned swimming togs and climbed into the hot tub. A lobbyist came onto the balcony and, after a brief exchange with Ferro and her colleague, dumped a glass of champagne over Ferro's head, then left."
Well, that explains everything.
We don't know why the Chronicle waited until Sunday to provide us with details of the event. Although, by doing so, it was able to run the column in the front section, with a separate story in the Metro section on DeLay addressing the Christian Worldview Conference at Houston Baptist University.
Any semblance of news in the speech to 400 folks was difficult to ascertain from the Chronicle story. Unless you count the fact that DeLay said his life changed when he read a religious book by Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame.
DeLay aides, we can assume, were not "steamed" about the Metro section article.