The car would not stop. Flares did not stop it. Shots fired into the engine didn't stop it. Exaggerated hand gestures and hollering surely didn't. As far as the four Marines stationed at a roadside checkpoint in Iraq knew, the sedan hurtling toward them was a bomb on wheels.
Tim Rojas flashed a thumbs-up at his fellow lance corporal, John Thuesen, 21, the quiet Texan manning the machine gun on the Humvee’s turret. Bullets ripped through the car. The driver slumped over the steering wheel as the sedan crawled to a stop.
There was no explosion. The Marines were alive, and in that moment, Rojas recalled, the four men felt like heroes.
Then, the car’s rear door opened, and a boy, covered in his family’s blood, terror all over his face, ran screaming toward them.
“It was a terrible feeling,” Rojas said, his eyes glassy with tears, recalling the day that he said forever changed their lives.
That was nearly a decade ago. Now, Rojas is again standing with his buddy.
Thuesen, 30, is on death row for shooting his girlfriend and her brother in their College Station home in 2009. Thuesen and his lawyers have filed an appeal, arguing that the jury would have imposed a life sentence had it been fully informed about the damage that post-traumatic stress disorder can cause. Rojas is now talking about their ordeal, hoping it will help with his friend’s appeal and bring more awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder from the battlefield.
Grissom also posted, "Year in Review: Criminal Justice," at the Texas Tribune.
Fallout from the high-profile Michael Morton exoneration along with more prison closures and growing concerns about the mentally ill in Texas prisons dominated criminal justice headlines in 2013.
Morton was released from prison in 2011 after DNA tests revealed that he did not murder his wife in 1986, a crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After spending nearly 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Morton lobbied the Legislature this year to pass laws that would prevent others from experiencing the same tragedy. And both the prosecutor who oversaw Morton’s conviction and the man whose DNA was connected to Morton’s wife’s murder wound up behind bars.
As the prison population and the number of juveniles in youth lockups continued to fall in the wake of criminal justice reforms in recent years, lawmakers decided to shutter more facilities. Legislators approved the closure of two privately operated state jails and one juvenile detention center. While some cheered the move, others in the communities where the facilities are located worried the closures would devastate the local economies.
Earlier coverage of Michael Morton's life after exoneration begins at the link.