Murder suspect from New Orleans arrested in Mesquite

A suspect in a New Orleans murder case was arrested this week in Mesquite.

Jerry Rixner, 22, was wanted in the shooting death of 18-year-old Joseph Duplessis IV, the Times-Picayune reports.

Duplessis was found dead July 7 behind an abandoned home in New Orleans. He had been shot multiple times but died from a shot to the neck.

Rixner was taken into custody Wednesday in Mesquite. It’s unclear what connections he has to North Texas.

He remains in the Dallas County Jail awaiting extradition to Louisiana.

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  August 1, 2014  

Angel Maturino Resendiz, the Railroad Killer

One of the more romantic elements of American folklore has been the crisscrossing rail system of this country — steel rails carrying Americans to new territories across desert and mountain, through wheat fields and over great rivers. Carl Sandburg has flavored the mighty steam engine in elegant prose and Arlo Guthrie has made the roundhouse a sturdy emblem of America’s commerce.

But, even the most colorful dreams have their dark sides.

For nearly two years, a killer literally followed Wheatfield America’s railroad tracks to slay unsuspecting victims before disappearing back into the pre-lit dawn. His modus operandi was always the same — he struck near the rail lines he illegally rode, then stowed away on the next freight train to come his way. Always ahead of the law.

Angel Maturino Resendiz, 39 years old, was apprehended early this month (July, 1999) after eluding state police for two years and slipping through a two-month FBI net until, after nine alleged murders, he was finally traced and captured by a determined Texas Ranger.

Known, for apparent reasons, as “The Railroad Killer,” Angel Resendiz (who was known throughout much of the manhunt by the alias Rafael Resendez-Ramirez) has been called “a man with a grudge,” “confused,” hostile” and “angry” by the police, the news media and psychiatrists. He is an illegal immigrant from Mexico who crossed the international border at will. Most of his crimes took place in central Texas, but he is suspected of having killed as far north as Kentucky and Illinois.

Mugshot of Angel
Resendez

While he fits the mold of serial killers such as David Berkowitz and the Boston Strangler, Resendiz killed more meditatively for something he needed: alcohol, drugs, a place to hide out, though usually money. He raped, but “sex seemed almost secondary,” according to former FBI profiler John Douglas. Douglas calls Resendiz “just a bungling crook …very disorganized,” but one whose own disorganization worked well for him. Because his trail was haphazard, because he himself didn’t know where he was heading next, this directionless, drifting form of operation kept Resendiz inadvertently ever-the-more elusive. FBI special agent Don K. Clark says that the manhunt was complicated by the fact that Resendiz had “no permanent address” while continuing to travel unchecked “throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada.”

While his travels might best be described as spontaneous, and his slayings as combustive, that is not to say that the Railroad Killer didn’t have his own particular signature. He pretty much followed a routine. For one, the murders all occurred “in close proximity to train track locations,” to quote Clark.

Late last month, in the heat of the intensive manhunt for the murderer, John Douglas described what appeared to be the killer’s simple but deadly agenda:

“When he hitches a ride on the freight train, he doesn’t necessarily know where the train is going. But when he gets off, having background as a burglar, he’s able to scope out the area, do a little surveillance, make sure he breaks into the right house where there won’t be anyone to give him a run for his money. He can enter a home complete with cutting glass and reaching in and undoing the locks.

“He’ll look through the windows and see who’s occupying it. The guy’s only 5 foot-7, very small. In fact…the early weapons were primarily blunt-force trauma weapons, weapons of opportunity found at the scenes. He has to case them out, make sure he can put himself in a win-win situation.”

Where he came from, what spurred his crime spree, what kind of man was Resendiz —these will be examined in the succeeding chapters. For now, let’s pause to examine his list of victims.

The Killings

Following is a list of the nine serial murders attributed to Resendiz:

  • Victim 1: August 29, 1997/Lexington. Ky.: Christopher Maier, 21, a University of Kentucky student, and his girlfriend are attacked while walking along the tracks near the college. Maier is bludgeoned to death and she is raped and beaten, almost to the point of death. She miraculously survives.
  • Victim 2: October 4, 1998/Hughes Spring, Texas: On this cool Fall evening, 87-year-old Leafie Mason is hammered to death by a tire iron by someone who enters her home through a window. Her front door faces the Kansas City-Southern Rail Line tracks only 50 yards away.
  • Victim 3: December 17, 1998/Houston, Texas: An invader breaks into the home of Dr. Claudia Benton, 39, of the Baylor College of Medicine, when she arrives home, the intruder rapes, stabs and bludgeons her repeatedly with a blunt instrument. Her home is near the rail lines that run through suburban West University Place. When the police recover her stolen Jeep Cherokee in San Antonio. TX, they find fingerprints on the steering column that match those of drifter Resendiz, a known illegal alien. Three weeks later, a county judge signs a warrant for Resendiz’ arrest for burglary — but, strangely enough, not for murder. There is not enough evidence, says he!

Rev. Norman Sirnic and wife Karen

  • Victims 4 & 5: May 2, 1999 Weimar, Texas: Late at night, the Reverend Norman J. “Skip” Sirnic, 46, and wife Karen, 47, are struck to death by a sledgehammer in the parsonage of the United Church of Christ — located adjacent to the town’s railroad. The couple’s red Mazda is found in San Antonio three weeks later. Forensic evidence matches the killing of Dr. Benton in Houston
  • Victim 6: June 4, 1999: Houston, Texas: Schoolteacher Noemi Dominguez, 26, is clubbed to death in her apartment, located near rail tracks. Seven days later, troopers find Dominguez’ 1993 white Honda Civic abandoned at the international bridge at Del Rio, Texas.
  • Victim 7: June 4, 1999/Fayette County, Texas: Seventy-three-year-old Josephine Konvicka is killed in bed by a blow of a pointed garden tool to the head. She lived in a frame farmhouse not far from Weimar, where a month prior Rev. and Mrs. Simic were killed, and within shadows of a rail yard. Her car has been tampered with, but the killer is unable to find the keys.
  • Victims 8 & 9: June 15, 1999/Gorham, Ill.: An intruder breaks into a mobile home to kill its two occupants, After shooting George Morber, Sr.,80, in the head with a shotgun, he then clubs to death Morber’s daughter, Carolyn Frederick, 52. Their house sits only 100 yards from the a railroad track. The next day, a passerby spots Fredericks’ red pickup truck in Cairo, IL, sixty miles south of Gorham, being driven by a man matching Resendiz’ description.

Most of Resendiz’ victims were found covered with a blanket; none were of a tall or burly stature, for the killer himself is of a diminutive size and stature. But, he might well have been a giant for the terror he struck in the hearts of otherwise-relaxed communities. Citizens’ emotions ran high in the towns where he killed; in the smaller ones, especially, people who had never locked their doors and windows at night were now bolting them. Children were ushered off the dusky streets by nervous parents, shops closed early, and moonlit strolls ended.

Sentiments throughout pretty much echoed the words of Mayor Bernie Kosler of Weimar, the little Texas burgh where the Simics and Mrs. Konvicka were slain. “The stores around here,” he said, “have sold out of pistols.”

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  August 1, 2014  

Can We Reduce The Prison Population By 25%?

August 1, 2014 05:26:54 am

By Marc Mauer and Nazgol Ghandnoosh

A report we recently co-authored for The Sentencing Project documented that three states – New York, New Jersey, and California – have led the nation in recent years by reducing their prison populations by about 25%.

New York and New Jersey achieved a 26% reduction from 1999 to 2012, and California experienced a 23% decline from 2006 to 2012.

While some proponents of continued high rates of incarceration warn of the prospect of a “crime wave” if populations are reduced, we found no evidence for such an outcome in these states. During this time frame, a period in which crime rates were declining nationally, these three states generally achieved greater reductions in violent and property crimes than national averages.

Our findings suggest that it is possible to achieve substantial prison population reductions – much greater than the very modest 4% reduction that state prisons have achieved since their 2009 peak – without adverse effects on public safety.

We also note that even a reduction of 25% in the level of incarceration would still leave the United States with a rate that is more than five times that of most industrialized nations.

To achieve reductions of this scale or greater will require both building on current initiatives in more expansive ways and taking on areas of the corrections system that have received little attention to date.

Below is a selection of changes in policy and practice that hold the potential for substantial reductions in imprisonment.

Expand diversion programs and their admissions criteria

The two-decades old drug court movement has been highly successful by some measures, with more than 2,700 such courts in operation. Research to date suggests that persons completing court-supervised treatment have reduced rates of returning to drug use and criminal involvement.

But two features of drug courts have constrained their impact on the size of the prison population. First, many drug courts are relatively modest in size, handling only a fraction of the potential pool of defendants who could benefit from such an intervention.

Second, the restrictive admissions criteria of many drug courts – and other alternatives to incarceration programs – reduce eligibility to defendants who were often unlikely to have been sentenced to prison in traditional courts. Many programs, for example, exclude individuals with a prior conviction for a violent offense, no matter when it occurred. By expanding these courts and reconsidering their admissions criteria, policymakers could achieve more substantial reductions in prison populations.

Reduce sentence lengths for drug offenders

The U.S. has such a large prison population not only because it sends so many to prison, but also because it keeps them there for so long. The recent vote by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to retroactively apply reduced drug sentencing guidelines to federal prisoners will shave about two years from the sentences of as many as 46,000 prisoners.

The vote represents the most substantial shift in federal drug sentencing since the inception of the “war on drugs” in the 1980s, and is estimated to save as much as $2 billion in corrections costs. Policymakers at the state level are beginning to reassess the wisdom of such policies as well. Given the lengthy prison terms required by many mandatory sentencing polices at both the state and federal levels there is substantial room to reduce the scale of incarceration through similar reforms.

Establish an upper limit on all prison terms

The severity of imprisonment for persons convicted of serious crimes in the U.S. is substantially higher than in comparable nations. Recognizing this feature, legal scholar Jonathan Simon suggests imposing an upper limit on prison terms of no more than 20 years except in the most unusual circumstances. 

Such a policy would place the U.S. in line with Canada and most nations in Western Europe. This proposal builds on the understanding that recidivism risk declines with age and addresses moral concerns about the excessive use of imprisonment.

Establishing such upper limits would likely reduce prison terms for lesser offenses as well, since sentencing systems are generally proportional in nature.

Reduce parole and probation supervision of low-risk individuals

Community supervision of low-risk clients can sometimes serve as a “trip wire to unnecessarily revoke and incarcerate,” write Vincent Schiraldi and Michael Jacobson, former New York City probation commissioners. The three states in our report employed various strategies to scale back community supervision and/or reduce revocations to prison.

In New York City probation officials reduced prison admissions through probation revocations by shortening probation terms. New Jersey reduced the rate at which people who violated the technical terms of their parole were readmitted to prison, and California shortened the period of community supervision for lower-risk individuals and placed limits on revocations.

States can therefore reduce returns to prison by shortening lengths of community supervision for lower-risk individuals.

Reclassify certain felony offenses as misdemeanors

Proponents of a ballot proposal in California this fall are asking voters to reduce the severity of a number of low-level property and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Crimes such as petty theft, writing a bad check, receiving stolen property, and drug possession are currently considered “wobblers,” and can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

The proposal seeks to reclassify these offenses as misdemeanors in most circumstances, and to retroactively apply this reform. The substantial cost savings achieved by the policy shift would be targeted to crime prevention programs, victim services and a range of treatment initiatives within the court system.

Most states have similar charging issues that could be addressed by such reforms.

The old criminal justice playbook continues to guide the work of many policymakers and practitioners. Our report spotlights the policy tools as well as the consequences of decarceration in three states that have made the most significant and sustained reductions in their prison populations.

The experiences of New York, New Jersey and California can help leaders around the country to develop both the will and the way to achieve successful prison downsizing.

Marc Mauer is the Executive Director and Nazgol Ghandnoosh is a Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project. They welcome comments from readers.