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Free Lacresha Murray

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On May 24, 1996, at approximately 8:30 a.m., Derrick Shaw, the boyfriend of Judy Belton, brought Judy’s 21/2-year old daughter, Jayla, to the Murray home for daycare — earlier than customary and despite

being told not to bring her there that day as the primary caretaker, Mrs. Shirley Murray, would be out of town.

According to the Murrays and other persons in the home that day, Jayla spent the entire day sleeping and lethargic, vomiting, and sweating profusely. Witnesses also testified that she was holding her left side as if in pain. At approximately 5:30 p.m., Lacresha noticed the baby “shaking,” grabbed Jayla and rushed with her to her grandfather, R.L. Murray, who at the time had been speaking for at least 10 minutes to a woman who had come to pick up her child. They both examined Jayla, decided she was very sick and that she needed to go to the hospital.

Lacresha and her grandfather took Jayla to Brackenridge Hospital, where she was pronounced dead shortly after their arrival, at approximately 6:10 p.m.

From the hospital, Lacresha was taken to a child advocacy center where she was initially questioned by an officer on videotape. From there, she was taken to the Austin Police Department (“APD”) where she was again questioned, along with R.L. Murray and Shawntay Murray. Finally, she was delivered home at some time after midnight on May 24th, where there were approximately 20 police officers, including a full forensics team gathering the so-called “evidence.”

The next day, Saturday, May 25th, the medical examiner, Dr. Roberto Bayardo, with an APD officer in the room, performed an autopsy, and opined that the baby died within minutes of a fatal blow to the liver. The APD contacted Child Protective Services (“CPS”) and had them remove Lacresha and all the other children from the Murray home. Lacresha was placed in a children’s home in Round Rock under the care of CPS and denied any contact with her parents.

Determined that Jayla Belton had been beaten in the Murray home, the APD continued interviewing members of the Murray family until they excluded everyone but Lacresha as a likely suspect.

The APD went to the children’s home with their computers, audio- and videotape equipment, and statement forms. After what was (arguably) a 2 3/4-hour interview, The APD had Lacresha Murray sign a statement which implicated her in the homicide of Jayla Belton. The APD went from there to the District Attorney, Ronnie Earle, secured an indictment and charged her with Capital Murder.

With juvenile crime a hot political topic and re-election coming up, Ronnie Earle conducted a press conference to announce the charge of capital murder against Lacresha Murray. He opted against protecting a juvenile suspect’s identity and the presumption of her innocence by giving her name and photo to the media. His justification for this action was to assert his belief that Lacresha Murray was guilty of this horrendous crime. The media joined in on the frenzy, plastered her name, photo and the charge against her across TV screens and headlines nationwide.

This all before the police had even finished their demonstrably hasty and inadequate investigation.


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