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Screwdriver, hammer used in child slayings, police allege

TEXAS CITY

The man accused of killing three children in a Texas City apartment last week told investigators he used a screwdriver and hammer to kill two of them, according to charging documents released Monday.

Junaid Hashim Mehmood, 27, of Texas City, is charged with two counts of capital murder in the the deaths of Angela Pilot, 5; Prince Larry Brown, 2; and 1-month-old Ashanti Mehmood.

The two murder counts encompass all three deaths, officials said.

He also was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the shooting and beating of Kimaria Nelson, mother of all three children. Nelson, her children and Mehmood all lived in the same apartment, officials have said.

Houston police arrested Mehmood hours after a relative, who had gone to the Pointe Ann Apartments to check on Mehmood, found a macabre scene of blood-covered walls and floors at the apartment, according to the criminal complaint.

The relative called police, who found the three children dead and Nelson lying injured behind a locked bathroom door, according to the complaint. Nelson had been shot in the face with a high-powered pellet gun, and pellets were embedded in her head and face, according to the complaint.

Officers arrested Meh-mood later Thursday evening after he called Houston police to turn himself in, police said. He was turned over to Texas City police and admitted to shooting Nelson and killing the children, according to the complaint.

He told police he had used a screwdriver to stab Brown and Pilot, and that he also hit Pilot in the head with a hammer, according to the complaint. He told investigators he could not remember how Ashanti Mehmood, his own infant daughter, had been killed, according to the complaint.

An autopsy conducted Friday revealed Ashanti Mehmood had been stabbed in the head and the stomach, according to the complaint. Pilot had a fractured skull and Brown had been stabbed in the heart and stomach, according to the complaint.

Mehmood was being held without bond in the Galveston County Jail on Monday, according to jail records. Mehmood had been kept in a single-man cell since he was taken to the jail, according to the sheriff’s office. That is typical for people who have been charged with capital murder, officials said.

Mehmood was not being represented by a defense attorney as of Monday and no hearings or trial dates had been set, according to court records.

A person found guilty of capital murder in Texas can be punished with life in prison without parole or with the death penalty.

Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said Monday prosecutors had not decided whether to pursue the death penalty against Mehmood.

“We’ve not yet made that that decision, but we will be making it soon,” Roady said.


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Massive search for child ends with grim discovery

TEXAS CITY

A search involving almost 300 people for Xavion Young, 7, who went missing Sunday from a Texas City apartment complex, ended Monday evening when police found the body of a male child in a pond near the boy’s home, officials said.

Officials confirmed about 6 p.m. they had found the body in a retention pond southeast of the Costa Mariposa Apartment Homes, 7555 Medical Center Drive, where Young lived, Texas City Police Department spokesman Allen Bjerke said.

The identity of the body had not been confirmed at that time, but police had suspended the search, Bjerke said.

“The search has been suspended until they can confirm if this is actually him or not,” Bjerke said.

About 140 volunteers and 140 law enforcement personnel from 16 local and state agencies joined the search for Young on Sunday and Monday, with dive teams, search dogs, mounted volunteers and helicopters, police said.

By 4 p.m. Monday, police were expanding their search for Young, who was described as autistic, Texas City Police Chief Joe Stanton said.

Reecey DeRouen, Young’s mother, noticed in less than 10 minutes her son was missing, she said.

“I walked this whole apartment complex myself, every nook, every cranny,” DeRouen said. “I drove around. I searched everywhere screaming his name.”

Young went missing when DeRouen went to the restroom, DeRouen said. She believed her son had wandered outside, where he liked to feed a goose, she said.

“That’s how people know my son,” DeRouen said. “The boy with the goose.”

Young is a second-grader at La Marque Primary School and has two sisters, 11 and 2 years old, DeRouen said.

Police had issued an Endangered Missing Persons Alert for the 7-year-old through the Texas Department of Public Safety, police said.

The alert is triggered for missing people with intellectual disabilities, while an AMBER Alert is issued for children who are suspected of being kidnapped, according to the department website.

Between 2007 and 2017, 952 children with autism were reported missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to the center’s website.

About 74 percent of those children were recovered within one week, according to the center’s site.


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AP
Trump heads to TV, border as fed workers face paycheck sting

WASHINGTON

With no breakthrough in sight, President Donald Trump will argue his case to the nation Tuesday night that a “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border requires the long and invulnerable wall he’s demanding before ending the partial government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers face missed paychecks Friday as the shutdown drags through a third week.

Trump’s Oval Office speech — his first as president — will be followed by his visit Thursday to the southern border to highlight his demand for a barrier. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that he will use the visit to “meet with those on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis.”

The administration is also at least talking about the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow Trump to move forward on the wall without Congress approving the $5.6 billion he wants. Vice President Mike Pence said the White House counsel’s office is looking at the idea. Such a move would certainly draw legal challenges, and Trump — who told lawmakers he would be willing to keep the government closed for months or ever years — has said he would like to continue negotiations for now.

Trump’s prime-time address will be carried live by ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, MSNBC and NBC.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer called on the networks to give Democrats a chance to respond. “Now that the television networks have decided to air the President’s address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime,” they wrote in a joint statement released Monday night.

As Trump’s speech and border visit were announced, newly empowered House Democrats — and at least a few Republican senators — stepped up pressure on GOP lawmakers to reopen the government without giving in to the president’s demands The closure, which has lasted 17 days, is already the second-longest in history and would become the longest this weekend.

Leaning on Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing anxious about the impact of the shutdown, Pelosi said the House would begin passing individual bills this week that would reopen federal agencies, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds .

The White House moved to pre-empt the Democrats, telling reporters Monday that tax refunds would be paid despite the shutdown. That shutdown exemption would break from the practice of earlier administrations and could be challenged.

“There is an indefinite appropriation to pay tax refunds. As a result ... the refunds will go out as normal,” said Russell Vought, acting director of the White House budget office.

There were other signs that administration was working to control the damage from the shutdown, which has furloughed 380,000 federal workers and forced another 420,000 to work without pay. The National Park Service said it was dipping into entrance fees to pay for staffing at some highly visited parks to maintain restrooms, clean up trash and patrol the grounds, after reports of human waste and garbage overflowing in some spots.

Over the weekend, the federal agency tasked with guaranteeing U.S. airport security acknowledged an increase in the number of its employees missing work or calling in sick.

But Trump and the Transportation Security Administration pushed back on any suggestion that the call-outs at the agency represented a “sickout” that was having a significant effect on U.S. air travel. TSA said it screened more than 2.2 million passengers Sunday, a historically busy day due to holiday travel. Ninety percent waited less than 15 minutes, the agency said.

“We are grateful to the more than 51,000 agents across the country who remain focused on the mission and are respectful to the traveling public,” said TSA spokesman Michael Bilello.

The talks over ending the shutdown have been at an impasse over Trump’s demand for the wall. He has offered to build the barrier with steel rather than concrete, billing that as a concession to Democrats’ objections. They “don’t like concrete, so we’ll give them steel,” he said. But Democrats have made clear that they object to the wall itself, not how it’s constructed. They see it as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed-upon levels.

“Maybe he thinks he can bully us. But I’m from Brooklyn. You let a bully succeed, you’ll be bullied again worse,” Schumer said at a breakfast with the Association for a Better New York.

At the White House, spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp complained that Democratic leaders have yet to define what they mean when they say they are for enhancing border security.

“Democrats want to secure the border? Great. Come to the table,” she said Monday. “We are willing to come to a deal to reopen the government.”

Trump has tasked Pence during the shutdown fight to negotiate with Democrats, including during talks over the weekend with Democratic staffers. But the vice president is increasingly being called upon to prevent defections in the GOP ranks.

Asked whether cracks were forming between the White House and Republicans eager for the shutdown to end, Pence told reporters, “We’ve been in touch with those members and others.”

He said that he and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen would be at the Capitol Tuesday and Wednesday to brief lawmakers.

Among the Republicans expressing concern was Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should take up funding bills from the Democratic-led House.

“Let’s get those reopened while the negotiations continue,” Collins said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

However, McConnell has said he won’t take up funding bills without Trump’s support.

Adding to concerns of lawmakers, federal workers who are still on the job apparently will miss this week’s paychecks. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that if the shutdown continues into Tuesday, “then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night.”

Trump asserted that he could relate to the plight of the federal workers who aren’t getting paid, though he acknowledged they will have to “make adjustments” to deal with the shutdown shortfall.

Not so easy, many of them say.

Derrick Padilla, a corrections officer with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Colorado, has worked without pay for two weeks and said he’s nearly depleted his savings.

“It’s now becoming a game of, ‘OK, who’s going to get paid? How am I going to make this payment? What’s the most important thing I have to pay for this month?’” he said.

“The bills don’t go away,” Padilla added. “We’re expected to meet our financial obligations, and we’re being put in a position to not be able to meet those obligations.”

For furloughed federal workers in Washington, some at least could enjoy the prospect of baseball in a few months. The Washington Nationals said season ticket holders who are laid off or not being paid by the federal government could postpone monthly ticket payments until the government is back up and running.

———

Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Kevin Freking and Juliet Linderman in Washington, Alex Sanz in Atlanta and David R. Martin in New York contributed to this report.


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A new memorial in Texas City is dedicated to six historically black churches.


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Dupuy's lawyer says he was framed; women disagree

Christopher Dupuy’s attorneys argue the ousted county court-at-law judge, who’s facing charges he posted images of women on a prostitution website, might have been framed.

On Monday, the first day of Dupuy’s criminal trial on two counts of felony online impersonation, attorney Simone Bray of Houston argued an internet group known as the Don Tequila Society might have placed salacious ads featuring two women previously in relationships with Dupuy on Backpage, a classified advertising website.

Prosecutors argued Dupuy posted the fictitious ads as revenge because relationships with both women ended badly.

Dupuy, in the past, has claimed the Don Tequila group is made up of legal professionals in Galveston County who wanted to defame him. In the current charges against him, the prosecution accuses Dupuy of using the handle Don Tequila as his own online identity.

Both the women depicted on Backpage testified Monday they had been unaware of the ads being placed but recognized photos of themselves that were either lifted from their Facebook pages or sent personally to Dupuy. The women’s personal phone numbers were listed in the ads.

Both witnesses became emotional as slides were projected onto a large screen for the jury, showing the ads, complete with statements they swore under oath they didn’t make. One of the ads implied the woman was “fetish friendly.”

Federal law enforcement agencies seized Backpage.com in April after a Senate investigation into online sex trafficking found its operators had knowingly aided criminal sex trafficking of women and girls.

Dupuy was elected Galveston County Judge at Law in 2010 and resigned in 2013 after being charged with multiple counts of lying under oath and abuse of office. In exchange for his resignation, Dupuy pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges and was placed on two years’ probation.

Dupuy was arrested at his League City apartment in 2015, charged with two counts of felony online impersonation and was originally jailed on $600,000 bond, later reduced to $400,000.

Assistant District Attorney Adam Poole, in his opening argument, said Dupuy had previously been involved with each of the women, and, although they didn’t know each other, in each case there were problems after the end of their relationships with Dupuy.

Both of the personal ads were dated Dec. 16, 2014. One of the women discovered the ad when she began receiving a huge volume of calls and texts on her personal phone.

Prosecutors argued Dupuy used a virtual private network to mask the identify his computer, but failed to log into the VPN in one instance, leading investigators to his actual IP address.

A forensic expert is scheduled to testify Tuesday to describe what he found when a search warrant was executed on Dupuy’s League City apartment. Poole said activity found on Dupuy’s computers showed multiple Facebook and Google searches about both women and, in one case, an “exact stream of words that became the headline of the Backpage ad.”

“It’s going to be embarrassing how obvious it is that man is guilty,” Poole told the jury.

Poole and Bray early in the day had quizzed potential jurors about hacking and access to Facebook and whether inaccurate depictions of people posted on Facebook have serious consequences. A jury of six men and six women, with one male alternate was seated by mid-day.

Texas’ online impersonation statute is meant to protect people from online activity posted without consent, designed to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten, Judge Vanessa Velasquez told potential jurors in the 405th District Court earlier in the day.


Texas City Police Department/Courtesy 

Xavion Young


Courtesy/Galveston County Sheriff's Office 

Christopher Dupuy


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City won't reveal chief, administrator applicants

HITCHCOCK

City commissioners will take their first public look at applicants for the open police chief and city administrator positions at a special meeting Tuesday morning, but officials aren’t releasing names of the candidates beforehand.

The job search for both positions has been a focus since the summer, after officials decided to re-create the city administrator job a position that was closed in the ’90s and Mayor Dorothy Childress fired former Hitchcock Police Chief John Hamm, Mayor Pro-tem Randy Strickland said.

At the special meeting today, that search will near an end when commissioners hash out the final candidates and narrow the selection down to two for each position, Commissioner Fard Abdullah said.

“From my understanding, we’ll be narrowing it down to at least two candidates for each,” he said. “Then we’ll get in contact with both and set up a time to start interviewing both.”

Commissioners, who received the names of the applicants for both positions from a search committee formed in August, sent a list of questions to each candidate, Abdullah said. They’ll make their final decision about who to interview in person at the special meeting based on the candidates’ answers, he said.

“The committee did a hell of a job, in my opinion,” Abdullah said. “I’ve had the opportunity to take a look at all of them, and I think they’re all fantastic.”

Although commissioners have had a chance to look at the list of names the search committee decided on three for police chief and four for city administrator members of the public has not. City officials declined to release the names before the meeting.

The names of applicants to most public jobs are open records under the Texas Public Information Act. Only the names of some applicants to some public education jobs can be legally withheld.

“We’re just going to reveal everything at the meeting,” Strickland, who headed the search committee, said. “We’re not going to give out any names right now.”

Lucy Dieringer, the city’s secretary, also declined to provide the names of finalists, as did several members of the search committee and the City Commission.

Mayor Dorothy Childress wasn’t available for comment.

When asked about whether he was concerned the city’s refusal to release public information to city residents before the meeting would raise transparency concerns, Strickland said people might be concerned, but they’re welcome to attend the meeting and find out who the finalists are.

“I’m sure there will be some concerns,” he said. “But a few people that talk to other people around here will put a negative spin on anything we tell them. I feel like if people are in my district and they’re really concerned, they would give me a call and ask what’s going on. If people are really that interested in it, nobody’s called me and asked me except The Daily News.”