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Who Will Watch the Watchers?

When U.S. border patrol agents have shot and killed Mexican citizens along the border, there have been very few consequences:

A Corpus Christi trial lawyer named Bob Hilliard represents the families of both Sergio Hernández and Guillermo Arévalo. “Hernández was not throwing rocks. And I don’t think Arévalo was either,” he said. “But what if they were? Would a Laredo police officer shoot somebody dead for throwing a rock at him from a hundred feet away?”

Hilliard’s wrongful-death suit on behalf of Hernández was dismissed by an El Paso judge in August 2011 on the grounds that the victim was not killed in the United States and therefore not entitled to relief under the U.S. Constitution. “If I understand that correctly, it means any agent can do anything he wants to anybody as long as the victim is in Mexico and the agent is on U.S. soil,” Hilliard said. “Does that sound right to you?” Hilliard has appealed the ruling. His suit on behalf of Arévalo has yet to be filed.

PUBLISHED: April 24, 2014
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6171 words)

Witness to an Execution

A son remembers his slain father, and returns home to Texas to watch his father's killer die.

I’ll never, ever, ever forget October 15, 1997. In my memory, it’s as vivid as anything I did earlier today. I was living in an apartment in College Station, and the phone rang at about three in the morning. Kerr County sheriff Frances Kaiser identified herself. She put my mother on the phone. My mother was sobbing hysterically. “Daddy’s been killed. We think he’s dead.” My first thought: What kind of accident were my parents in that killed him but she survived? Then Sheriff Kaiser took the phone back, and she told me the general details. My mother was robbed and attacked. They assumed the body behind the house was my father, but it had been beaten so badly the face was not recognizable.

PUBLISHED: April 16, 2014
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6100 words)

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our story picks of the week, featuring Texas Monthly, The Walrus, New York Times Magazine, 5280 and New York magazine.
PUBLISHED: April 4, 2014

Honey, I Want To Move To Mars

My wife is a semifinalist to board a one-way mission to the Red Planet. I'm proud, happy, and thrilled for her. Now, do you want to know how I really feel about i?

I might have suggested another couple of words in response to that particular question, but I know better than most that the notion that someone can retain privacy once they’ve entered this modestly public life is archaic. When Mars One whittled the 200,000-plus applicants down to 1,058, Sonia got enough media coverage to become a minor celebrity around town. It doesn’t hurt that she is easy on the eyes. I love her, the camera loves her, and now strangers do too.

When we go to parties we hear whispers. “That’s the Mars girl,” people say. Women—it’s always women—approach to congratulate her on her bravery. Rarely does anyone engage her as a space geek to talk about what she hopes to find up there, but if someone did, he or she would open the discussion to Sonia’s innate curiosity and her enthusiasm about humanity’s drive to explore and expand our understanding of what is possible. She honestly does not understand why everyone does not want to go to Mars, though she knows I would last about half an hour before getting bored up there.

PUBLISHED: April 3, 2014
LENGTH: 6 minutes (1730 words)

The Murders at the Lake

In 1982 three teenagers were found savagely stabbed to death by a lake in Waco, Texas. Four men were found guilty and two were sentenced to death. Were they guilty? Michael Hall spent one year reporting this five-parts series for Texas Monthly:

This story examines the case through the viewpoint of five people: a patrol sergeant who investigated the crime; a police detective who became skeptical of the investigation; an appellate lawyer who tried to stop the execution; a journalist whose reporting has raised new doubts about the case; and a convict who pleaded guilty but now vehemently proclaims his innocence.

PUBLISHED: March 28, 2014
LENGTH: 99 minutes (24844 words)

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our favorite stories of the week, featuring the London Review of Books, New York magazine, Medium, Texas Monthly, and the Morning News.
PUBLISHED: March 1, 2014

Mission To Mars

How Rob Thomas—creator of the beloved TV series Veronica Mars—used Kickstarter to bring his show to the big screen:

On the morning of March 13, 2013, Thomas hit the “Launch Project” button on his laptop screen. He’d also installed the Kickstarter app on his iPhone, with the notifications option turned on. For the next several hours, his phone vibrated continuously, never pausing long enough for him to change the settings on the app—a new backer was joining the project literally every second. About an hour in, Thomas realized what was happening. “I finally felt absolutely like we were going to get to make the movie,” he says. “That’s when I got hit by just a tidal wave of endorphins or adrenaline. I felt woozy.” They raised $1 million in four hours. By the end of the first day, they had $2.5 million and had set several Kickstarter records, becoming the fastest project to reach $1 million and the fastest project to reach $2 million (eleven hours). In the end, they raised $5,702,153, making Veronica Mars the third-largest Kickstarter ever and the highest-funded film or video project (the previous record was $808,341, for a web TV series).

PUBLISHED: March 1, 2014
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4230 words)

A Question of Mercy

In 1998 a district attorney sent a teenager to prison for murder. Years later, he's questioning the life sentence:

According to the law, Cole continued, it did not matter that Randy had not fired the gun or had not wished Heather dead. In Texas, the “law of parties” erases the distinction between killers and accomplices, finding that a person can be held criminally responsible for the conduct of another if he participated in the crime. By virtue of the fact that Randy had assisted Curtis, he was guilty of capital murder. “He could stand here all day long and tell you that his intent was not to assist in the commission of this crime, and his actions cry out differently,” Cole insisted. “He’s guilty. He must pay the consequences of his choice.”

The jury agreed, and on August 25, 1998, Randy was convicted of capital murder and handed an automatic life sentence. Cole watched as Randy, then nineteen, was led from the courtroom in handcuffs and leg irons. As the DA gathered the papers at his table, he was relieved that the trial was over. Yet he hardly felt triumphant. “It was not a moment of celebration,” Cole told me. “There was no joy or happiness. I had a deep, deep sense that another young life had been senselessly wasted."

PUBLISHED: Feb. 24, 2014
LENGTH: 33 minutes (8410 words)

All's Farrah In Love

Whom did Farrah Fawcett really love? A court battle over an expensive Warhol turns on matters of the heart:

It was a Monday morning in mid-December at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, the day of closing arguments in the matter of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System v. Ryan O’Neal, and the show was just minutes from getting under way. Outside the courtroom, the players milled about. O’Neal was strolling down the courthouse hallway in a navy blazer, an open-collared light-blue shirt, and dark pants. Seventy-two years old and still impossibly youthful, with only a touch of graying hair, he wore gold-rimmed sunglasses and held a plastic water bottle, which he wiggled before him as if he were going for a birdie putt on the eighteenth green at Riviera. “God, I’m nervous,” he said.

PUBLISHED: Feb. 3, 2014
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3902 words)