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Local
Tyler police seek public's assistance in identifying human remains found in 2004

The Tyler Police Department is seeking the public's help in identifying a deceased human skeleton that was found behind a Tyler church in 2004. The photo is a facial reconstruction from the Texas Department of Public Safety in Austin (Courtesy photo)

The Tyler Police Department is seeking the public’s help in identifying a human skeleton that was found behind a Tyler church in 2004.

The police investigated the finding of decomposed human remains, which were found by kids in a heavily wooded area off of Farm-to-Market Road 2813 behind the First Baptist Church South Tyler, according to a news release from the police department.

The clothing worn by the deceased included a blue jacket, blue jeans and brown Rockport shoes.

The remains were sent to a forensic lab for identification, and the skeleton didn’t match any local missing person reports. It was determined the skeleton was a man.

Since 2004, no more information has come out about this case, according to police.

The facial reconstruction was created by a forensic artist from the Texas Department of Public Safety in Austin.

If you know the person in the photo, you are urged to contact Detective Nathan Elliott of the Tyler Police Department at 903-531-1026.


Local
Women in Tyler to honor seven for outstanding service

For years, Kristina Ross has been attending the Women in Tyler Luncheon, an event honoring women for community service.

She will be attending the luncheon again. This time as one of the honorees.

Ross is one of seven women who will be lauded at the luncheon set for March 19 at Rose Garden Center.

Also being honored are Daye Collins, Laura Cano, Yaziri Orrostieta, Carol Swanson and Cheryl Garmon. Judith Guthrie, a retired federal judge, will be presented Women in Tyler’s first Legacy Award, recognizing a lifetime of service.

The honorees were announced Monday during a reception at McClendon House. They were selected by a committee that looked at nominations received from the community.

“I am so honored to be selected,” Ross said. “I have been coming to the luncheon every year since I moved back to Tyler, and it’s truly an honor to be among these ladies.”

Dorinda Henderson-Williams, one of the co-chairs of Women in Tyler, said the honorees are “phenomenal” and represent many interests.

“They are showing that women can do anything,” she said.

Elva Estrada, the other committee chair, said the luncheon draws attention to women whose efforts often are underappreciated and go unrecognized.

“They have hidden talents that we are a shining a light on and bringing their glow out,” she said.

Women in Tyler was founded in 1999 to observe Women’s History Month in March.

Tickets to the luncheon cost $30 and can be purchased on the committee’s website, womenintyler.com. Reservations and payments also can be may be made by mail to Women in Tyler at P.O. Box 1432, Tyler, TX, 75710.

Judith Guthrie

Judith Guthrie retired in 2013 as a U.S. magistrate judge. Before that, she was in private practice with her late husband, John Hannah. She received her law degree from the University of Houston.

She was instrumental in the founding of Women in Tyler and Gateway to Hope, a resource center for the homeless. As a community volunteer, she has served on boards of The Women’s Fund of Smith County and Habitat for Humanity.

Keep Texas Beautiful awarded her its outstanding individual leadership award in 2006. She was named Preservationist of the Year in Tyler in 2012 by Historic Tyler.

Kristina Ross

As a sports agent, Kristina Ross works with professional athletes in sports ranging from boxing to football. She is certified to be an adviser to the NFL Players Association and the National NBA Players Association.

Ross is the chairman of the Black History Bowl Committee, a member of Junior League of Tyler and serves on the board of the nonprofit help agency PATH. She also has served on the Smith County Young Lawyers Association’s board.

She has a law degree from St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio.

Cheryl Garmon

Cheryl Garmon has spent her life helping others throughout a career as a nurse. Last year, she was in the University of Texas at Tyler’s inaugural class of Doctor of Nursing Practice students.

Garmon is a member of the National Black Nurses Association and has served on the board of the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County. She graduated from the Texas Eastern School of Nursing, now Tyler Junior College’s school of nursing. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UT Tyler.

Daye Collins

Daye Collins has served on several community boards and committees including Tyler Civic Theatre, Women in Tyler and McClendon House Society, where she helped preserve the historic home.

She is on the Smith County Historical Society Board of Directors.

Collins was a teacher for many years at Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Catholic School and is a graduate of the Leadership Texas program.

Yaziri “Yo” Orrostieta

Yaziri Orrostieta is the CEO of WorkHub Tyler, a membership-based professional co-working space, and previously served as a vice president at Heritage Land Bank and as digital marketing manager at Mentoring Minds.

She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Tyler and a master’s degree from the University of North Texas. She has experience in banking and lending and mentors aspiring and new business owners.

Laura Cano

Laura Cano is the executive director for human resources at Tyler ISD and president of Hispanic Professionals Association of Tyler. Her involvement in the community focuses on promoting leadership development for working professionals.

She has had numerous volunteer roles and continues to encourage others despite losing a teenage son to cancer.

Carol Swanson

Carol Swanson is a former Ms. Texas Senior Pageant winner and has received the organization’s Mary Frances Hansen Community Service Award.

She is known for her acts of kindness, such as baking and delivering cookies to first responders. She has been involved in fundraising for nonprofits and donates her time at Hospice of East Texas and other organizations.


Local
Tyler woman arrested for intoxicated assault after head-on collision injuring 3, including 8-year-old in critical condition

An 8-year-old child was listed in critical condition after a wreck early Monday morning.

A woman who police say was intoxicated was arrested after her vehicle collided head-on with another car near the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

Tyler Police Department, the fire department and EMS responded at 12:09 a.m. to the scene of the wreck in the 10700 block of U.S. Highway 271, just south of UT Health Science Center, according to a news release.

Jasmine Gonzalez, 19, of Tyler, was driving southbound on U.S. 271 in a 2005 Mercedes-Benz in the northbound lanes when she hit a 2019 Nissan Sentra head-on, police said.

In the Nissan were a 35-year-old female driver and two children, ages 8 and 13. The driver and the 8-year-old were in critical condition and the 13-year-old in stable condition, according to the police department.

The victims’ names are not being released at this time due to their medical condition, according to the release.

Gonzalez was sent to a local hospital for treatment and then was released into officers’ custody. Investigators learned that she was intoxicated at the time of the crash, according to police.

She was charged with two counts of intoxication assault with a vehicle causing serious bodily injury. She was booked into the Smith County Jail and released the same day. She had two bonds of $5,000 each, according to jail records.


State
AP
Design of AR-15 could derail charges tied to popular rifle

DALLAS (AP) — A subtle design feature of the AR-15 rifle has raised a technical legal question that is derailing cases against people who are charged with illegally buying and selling the gun’s parts or building the weapon.

At issue is whether a key piece of one of America’s most popular firearms meets the definition of a gun that prosecutors have long relied on.

For decades, the federal government has treated a mechanism called the lower receiver as the essential piece of the semiautomatic rifle, which has been used in some of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings. Prosecutors regularly bring charges based on that specific part.

But some defense attorneys have recently argued that the part alone does not meet the definition in the law. Federal law enforcement officials, who have long been concerned about the discrepancy, are increasingly worried that it could hinder some criminal prosecutions and undermine firearms regulations nationwide.

“Now the cat is out of the bag, so I think you’ll see more of this going on,” said Stephen Halbrook, an attorney who has written books on gun law and history. “Basically, the government has gotten away with this for a long time.”

Cases involving lower receivers represent a small fraction of the thousands of federal gun charges filed each year. But the loophole has allowed some people accused of illegally selling or possessing the parts, including convicted felons, to escape prosecution. The issue also complicates efforts to address so-called ghost guns, which are largely untraceable because they are assembled from parts.

Since 2016, at least five defendants have challenged the government and succeeded in getting some charges dropped, avoiding prison or seeing their cases dismissed entirely. Three judges have rejected the government’s interpretation of the law, despite dire warnings from prosecutors.

Federal regulations define a firearm’s “frame” or “receiver” as the piece considered to be the gun itself. But in an AR-15, the receiver is split into upper and lower parts — and some of the components listed in the definition are contained in the upper half. That has led judges to rule that a lower receiver alone cannot be considered a gun.

The lower receiver sits above the pistol grip, holds the trigger and hammer, and has a slot for the magazine. By itself, it cannot fire a bullet. But by treating the piece as a firearm, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is able to regulate who can obtain it. Because authorities consider the part to be a gun, people prohibited from having firearms have been charged for possessing them.

In 2018, prosecutors said a ruling against the government would “seriously undermine the ATF’s ability to trace and regulate firearms nationwide.” CNN first reported the case and its implications.

Last month, a federal judge in Ohio dealt the latest blow, dismissing charges against two men accused of making false statements to buy lower receivers.

“Any public citizen would be concerned about this loophole that we exploited,” said attorney Thomas Kurt, who represented defendant Richard Rowold. “As a citizen, I hope the ATF corrects this. As Mr. Rowold’s attorney, I’m grateful the judge followed the law in getting to the correct result.”

The gun industry estimates there are more than 17 million AR-15-style rifles in circulation, and the National Rifle Association once dubbed it “America’s rifle.” AR-15-style weapons were used in attacks in Newtown, Connecticut, Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida.

In the case of Rowold, who is prohibited from buying or possessing firearms because of felony convictions, the government claimed that he used another man as a proxy to purchase 50 lower receivers. The 2018 indictment also charged him with having 15 lower receivers. Kurt declined to comment on why his client had the parts.

The case rested on the ATF’s claim that the components were legally firearms. Judge James Carr called that a “plainly erroneous” reading of the law and said the agency has a duty to fix the problem.

“Misapplying the law for a long time provides no immunity from scrutiny,” Carr wrote in his order to dismiss.

Federal prosecutors in Rowold’s case and several others declined to comment. An ATF spokeswoman would not answer questions posed by The Associated Press but said the agency is “keenly assessing” Carr’s decision.

The problem has attracted attention at the highest levels of law enforcement.

In 2016, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch wrote a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan after a judge dismissed a case in Northern California involving a man with a felony record who was accused of buying an unmarked AR-15 lower receiver from an undercover agent.

Prosecutors argued that the case against Alejandro Jimenez should proceed even if the part “does not perfectly fit” the legal definition. The judge dismissed the charges.

The decision prompted Lynch to write that if the ATF wants an AR-15 lower receiver to be considered a firearm under the law, then it should pursue “regulatory or administrative action.” But there’s no public record of the ATF taking such a step.

“I can’t imagine why no one has taken the initiative to correct this,” said Dan O’Kelly, a former senior ATF agent and director of a gun-training company known as International Firearm Specialist Academy. His testimony has guided several defense attorneys.

Since Lynch’s letter, such prosecutions have continued to secure prison sentences.

In April, for instance, an Oklahoma man was charged with illegally possessing a firearm after police who pulled him over found loaded high-capacity magazines and the lower receiver of an AR-15-style rifle in his truck.

Jason Scott Pedro, a 37-year-old with a felony record for domestic violence, was sentenced in November to seven years in prison.

There’s no evidence in court records that Pedro’s lawyer challenged whether the lower receiver was rightly considered a gun. The attorney did not respond to requests for comment but has filed a notice of appeal.

“I think the criminal defense bar has kind of let their clients down for letting this go on for all these years,” Halbrook said.

In one case, an ATF expert testified that the same principle could apply to many other firearms. Prosecutors worry that more rulings against the government could allow people prohibited from having guns to purchase weapons piece by piece with no regulation or background check.

Franklin Zimring, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, is skeptical of that claim and said the same behavior could often be prosecuted under state laws.

The AR-15 is a popular model for gun enthusiasts to legally build at home. The rifles are sometimes constructed out of partially machined receivers, often called “80% receivers,” which can be bought and sold without background checks and need not have serial numbers because they are unfinished.

If federal officials want to maintain control in this growing do-it-yourself gun market they need to first establish functional regulation of lower receivers, said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center.

“From a public safety standpoint,” she said, ”this is very important and isn’t just an in-the-weeds legal definitional problem.”

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Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press Writer Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York City contributed to this report.