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Patrick to push for bail reform, death penalty for child capital murder charges

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(The Center Square ) – After the murder of a 12-year-old girl in Houston, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he would prioritize two legislative reforms in the legislative session next year.

He made the announcement after citizens called for the accused to receive the death penalty. On June 17, the body of Jocelyn Nungaray was found in a bayou in north Houston, bound and without clothing from the waist down. She was strangled to death, but not without a fight. According to investigators, one of the alleged assailants had bite marks and scratches on his arms when he was arrested.

The men charged with her murder are Venezuelan nationals who illegally entered the country and instead of being processed for removal were released by Border Patrol agents in El Paso earlier this year. The men were charged with capital murder, held in the county jail on $10 million bonds each.

At one perpetrator’s arraignment, Assistant District Attorney Megan Long said, “He was talking to his boss, who works in construction, and asking for money, because of what they did, to get out of town.”

At the second’s, Long said the accused told a witness “that he had done something bad, that he’d hurt someone, that the person was dead and that he had to finish what he started,” KHOU 11 News reported.

One also turned on the other, saying he tied up Jocelyn and “suggested they throw her into the bayou to get rid of any DNA,” Long told the judge. “But that’s coming from the co-defendant. Once we receive the physical evidence, we hope to have a clearer picture of what exactly happened under the bridge.”

Under current law, neither is eligible for the death penalty.

At a news conference last week, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said that if forensic evidence comes back showing Nungaray was sexually assaulted, they could ask for the death penalty and no bond.

The current charge related to strangulation “does not carry death penalty eligibility,” she said. “However, it is important for the public and the press to know that the investigation is ongoing. Forensics and lab work are required in this case and unlike on television they can’t do it in an hour.” If the tests come back with “evidence that would support a charge of sexual assault or should other evidence be brought forward that supports the charge of kidnapping, both underlying offenses would make this capital murder and these individuals death penalty eligible,” she said.

“Make no mistake, this is a horrific crime and when we take charges, we do it based on the evidence we have at the moment.”

Ogg also explained that the legislature has changed the law over time related to the death penalty. “Our laws treat the age of victims differently” and the legislature has “changed where they draw the line.” It changed from age six and under to eventually between ages 10 and 15, “but the death penalty was taken off the table by the legislature. Instead, they suggested that life without parole would be the appropriate charge,” she said.

She emphasized that age “is not the only consideration in this case or any case. The underlying actions of the criminals” are.

She encouraged the media and members of the public to ask state lawmakers why the death penalty was taken off the table. “I don’t know why,” she said.

On Thursday, Patrick blamed House Democrats and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, for not having stronger bail reform legislation passed.

After attending Nungaray’s funeral on Thursday, Patrick said, “Jocelyn’s family was shocked any bail was given in this case. The Texas Senate has passed strong bail reform by Senator [Joan] Huffman [R-Houston] on several occasions with overwhelming bipartisan support. Each time, a few House Democrats and the Republican Speaker, Dade Phelan, killed the bill in the House. If only the House had passed SJR 44 last session, these two alleged killers could have been denied bail.

“I told Jocelyn’s mom that the Texas Senate will pass bail reform once again and will not accept the House killing this legislation. It will be named after her daughter as ‘Jocelyn’s Law,’ so her daughter’s name will never be forgotten and will ensure capital murderers are not eligible for bail ever again.”

He also said the new law will allow Texans to vote to amend the Texas Constitution to automatically deny bail for all accused capital murderers.

Patrick also said the Senate will amend another law to make the murder of any child under age 15 a death penalty eligible offense. Currently, the age specification is 10 years-old and younger.

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