Category Archives: Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner: How did I get here?

feeling-lost-in-singaporeHave you ever gotten into a situation (either good or bad) and wondered how you got there? Sure, big events happen sometimes. But, a series of small occurrences can also take us to places we’d never thought we’d be.

I’m going to share with you a trivial situation and a more serious one to illustrate how life can turn you around and around…gradually.

THE GAME. I have found some fun games and such online. I’ve never been a big gambler in real life. If I go to a casino, I’m the one playing penny slots, and if I took $20, I’ll play until that is gone or until I double it. Coming home with $40 is better than coming home in debt, in my opinion. That being said, my favorite game to play on my phone or iPad is a slot game. Even though I know it’s truly not random, it gives me the feeling that it is, and that I’m trying my LUCK.

When I first started, I think the game gave me $1.5 million. Can you imagine having $1.5 million? Can you imagine LOSING it?

I’d find a slot I liked that seemed to give me decent returns, but, eventually, I’d be broke once again. The odds are always with the “house,” or, in this case, the game designers. [For more in depth information about why we love slots, scratch-offs and buying lottery tickets, click here.]

Eventually, several slot games started paying off and my “meager” $1.5 million turned into $10 million.

Then, I stumbled across a slot game that encouraged me to bet big to win big, and I took the bait. Call it luck or psychological programming, but now I am a fake billionaire.

Heck, I now bet that stupid $1.5 million on one spin! I am flabbergasted that I keep winning. The rich get richer, eh? And to what end? Realistically…nothing. I get no benefits in the real world by playing this game.

I know I could lose my fake fortune in five minutes and I know it’s not real. The point is that I went from the baseline ($1.5 million fake dollars) to where I am now gradually, yet it changed the way I think about the game.

When I play the game now, I feel invincible.

I know that sooner or later, I will hit the BIG WIN. And while it does absolutely nothing for me in real life, there’s some weird part of me that feels like I really won that money.

When I play now, if I don’t get at least one big win, I feel ripped off.

I had to look back at when I started the game. I was happy to win $100,000 back then. But since I’m now a fake billionaire, I feel gypped at anything less than several million.

And it was GRADUAL. I think that many situations – good or bad – happen gradually. And most of the time, we don’t really see it as it is happening.

LIFE. I’m a divorcée, and it took me a while to understand how and why my ex and I got to the point of splitting up. He never hit me, went to strip clubs or cheated on me. But after almost 23 years of being together, it became obvious that we didn’t have much in common anymore. It was gradual.

Over those 23 years, things had GRADUALLY changed. I got more involved in the community…he got more involved in the company that he and his business partner built. Is either thing wrong? No. But it created a chasm over time.

Through the years, people and circumstances change slowly…sometimes for the better, sometimes not. But oftentimes, we just don’t notice the gradual changes. That’s why we end up in a situation that, “I never thought I’d end up” in. No one gets married thinking that they’d get a divorce.

A SOLUTION. It happens to everyone…sometimes in inconsequential situations (like my game) and sometimes in much more important scenarios (like a divorce).

Vigilance is easy from the outside. I can see what YOU need to fix in your life; however all we can really control in life is our own behavior. But, like driving on the same route every day and not remembering how you got to your destination, we get “zombied” with day-to-day stuff. Pretty soon, we are in a situation that is unfamiliar or that only “other people” get into. Our behavior needs to have purpose and requires forethought. It’s not an easy thing to do.

Check in with your situations, relationships and feelings regularly. Remain observant. It is human nature to adapt to different situations, but make sure that you’re adapting to healthy ones! Hopefully, this will help you get to whatever destination you’re aiming for in a more conscious, purposeful way.

***

If you have thoughts, complaints or questions about this article, please email the author, Stacey Doud, HERE.

 

Editor’s Corner: A Challenge to All Americans*

september-11-2001-911-ground-zero-twin-towers-23I’m sure everyone that’s old enough remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001 when images of the annihilation in New York City were broadcast over the airwaves. Perhaps you even remember the aftermath and how the country seemed to come together against a common enemy with no real face. People of all colors, races and religions helped one another to heal and rebuild.

It’s almost the 14th anniversary of those attacks and look where we are now. It’s almost as if we learned nothing from that tragedy.

From Ferguson, MO to Houston, TX, we are seeing Americans turn on each other. Not against a common enemy, but against other Americans. Americans that may be perceived as enemies because of the uniform they wear or the color of their skin.

WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

As a mostly-white girl (I’m half Portuguese, so maybe that counts as something other than white? I don’t know/care), anything that I say, do or write will be read with that fact in the forefront of the minds of my audience whether I like it or not. Of course, the color of my skin is just one aspect of me that people will judge. And we all judge…it’s human nature. We can’t help it. The most we can do is to be aware of these judgments and let them go as soon as possible.

But what is the truth when it comes to law enforcement and racism? I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that. I know that if an officer is patrolling a neighborhood that’s known for criminal activity and is also primarily lived in by African-American folks, Hispanic people or mutant green men from Mars, chances are that the officer will encounter African-American people, Hispanic folks or mutant green men from Mars in that neighborhood. And if Joe Turd has caused trouble before and is in the vicinity when trouble breaks out, Joe Turd will most likely be questioned, no matter what color his skin is or whether he’s from Mars or not. That’s just the police doing their jobs.

On the other hand, cops are human beings and are not exempt from bias, whether it be racial, gender-based or situational. They are trained to listen to their intuition, yet try not to base decisions on things like gender, religion or skin color. BUT IT HAPPENS. There are law enforcement officers that are white and generally dislike black people or Hispanic people or women or Martians for whatever reason. There are also black officers that have a general dislike for white and/or Hispanic people, women and/or Martians. There are some things about humans that are extremely difficult to change, and biases formed in childhood or in trauma are VERY tough to shed.

And the same goes for civilians. Whether it was growing up with a parent who voiced or demonstrated dislike/hatred for cops, Hispanics, blacks, women and/or Martians or having something traumatic happen that involved cops, Hispanics, blacks, women and/or Martians, biases form and sometimes, they stick.

When a bias leads to loss of life, that’s when the humanity ends. If a cop shoots someone just because of his or her gender, religion or ethnicity, there’s no humanity in that. The same goes for civilians who kill people based on their occupation, gender, religion or ethnicity. Hate: 1; Humanity: 0.

What makes everything worse is the connectivity of today. Someone gets a bug up their butt about cops, blacks, Hispanics or Martians and rants on Facebook or YouTube. It goes viral and other people get riled up (this is called emotional contagion). Thoughts lead to feelings and sometimes to actions. Someone loots a store. A riot breaks out. A peaceful demonstration turns into a hatefest.

Guess what? Most people these days are angry. If folks answered honestly, I’d bet 80 out of 100 are pissed off about something. And if it’s something they can’t do anything about, they are more likely to join in on something else that will let them express their anger. If I’m pissed and I see people yelling and screaming and looting stores, I might just join in.

If I wear a uniform and a badge and I’m angry because some mentally ill black guy just gunned down a fellow officer in cold blood, I’m especially dangerous. I have the right to carry a gun and have permission to rough people up a bit if I need to. So, it is up to me, the individual, to be aware of how I’m feeling, and make sure I take that into account, even if I have to make a split-second decision for my community’s safety. It’s still all me.

Folks, we can’t have a war unless there are two sides. September 11 is quickly approaching again, and we will all undoubtedly take time to remember those lost on that day 14 years ago. I challenge you to go beyond that day in your memory. Think about September 12, 13, 14 and beyond, when every American came together because we were all feeling attacked.

We are all feeling attacked again. The only way to stop this is to remember that every cop and every citizen (no matter how long his or her rap sheet is) is a human being. That’s something we all have in common.

So before you share that Facebook post, upload that video to YouTube or participate in that protest, think about how your individual actions will affect humanity in general. Will your actions be positive or negative (toward ANY group or individual)? If the answer is negative, I challenge you to not do it. Don’t say it. Don’t share it. Start an anger journal if you have to get it out. Talk to a friend or counselor. Paint pictures of the object(s) of your disdain, adding porn staches and horns. Tear up paper to shreds. Hit your bed or armchair. But please, stop this insanity. Stop the hate. Stop the killing.

We can’t be at war with each other. We are all we have. No matter what god you pray to, compassion is the underlying message. Remember that. We are all human…we all bleed red (well, maybe not Martians). Let’s work hard to “just get along.” Rodney King’s question echoes through society even louder today than it did in 1991.

We are all Americans. Let’s love one another on a basic, human level, even if we don’t necessarily like everyone. Love is free…hate is priceless. Think about it.

*This post is entirely the opinion of the editor and does not reflect the opinions of Houston Community Newspapers or 1013, Inc.

Editor’s Corner: Inside the Courtroom – The Dr. Dennis Hughes Hearing

WARNING: Some of the details I discuss in this article are graphic and some language may be offensive. Reader discretion is advised. I do not reveal these details lightly. The purpose is to analyze details of the case that had to be left out of articles for larger distribution. These are my opinions and observations and are not affiliated with Houston Community Newspapers and Media Group, Star Communications or 1013 Inc.

FederalCourthouseI didn’t even know there was a Federal Courthouse in Galveston, so when it was time for me to go to the Pre-Trial Hearing for Dr. Dennis Hughes, I had to do some searching for where to go.

Hughes had been arrested on Friday, June 5, 2015 for Federal Possession of Child Pornography.

Why “Federal?”

Because federal jurisdiction almost always applies when the Internet is used to commit a child pornography violation. And that happens a lot, unfortunately.

Hughes was escorted into the courtroom by a group of U.S. Marshal Gulf Coast Task Force members. He appeared unassuming; a stereotypical professor-type, clean cut and balding, except for his attire, which was an army-green prison-issue jumpsuit. A Marshal sat with Hughes during the proceedings, which created the impression that Hughes was very dangerous.

SealU.S. District Magistrate Judge John Froeschner entered the courtroom and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Zack was soon speaking to her first and only witness, FBI Special Agent (SA) Kelly Berry.

Berry testified that according to Hughes, his habit had been snowballing since the 1990’s, when he started looking at magazine ads and found himself attracted to adult women who were dressed to make them appear younger. By the time he was arrested, Hughes had been spending his nights online, looking at and downloading pornography that displayed pre-pubescent girls (around age 11 or 12) after his family was asleep.

This is the predictable course of pornography addiction. It starts off innocent enough, but the person starts needing something new and different. Sometimes, in the cases of adult porn addiction (and sometimes with children, but I won’t go there), people “graduate” from “just looking” to seeking out prostitutes or other folks who’ll do things with them that they have seen done in pornography. In rare cases, this can escalate into rape and other non-consensual acts.

Fortunately, it seems that Dr. Hughes has not been inappropriate with any real-life children. None of his pediatric patients or their parents, members of his Little League teams, the kids that he volunteered with at his children’s school nor his own children, have thus far reported any wrongdoing on Hughes’s part.

Some people reported that his behavior seemed “a little strange,” like him taking photos at the school even after the yearbook (for which he was taking the pics) had gone to print or insisting that he do full-body scans on his melanoma patients himself instead of taking the “usual” course of referring them to the Dermatology Dept. for the scans. However, this can also be explained as hindsight bias, in which people who now know that Hughes enjoyed child pornography interpret something benign as being sinister.

An aside…Hughes only spends about 20% of his time at work with patients. He is a Physician Scientist, which means most of his time is spent in a lab doing research. He is also a tenured professor. His specialty is the study of melanoma (skin cancer) and osteosarcoma, which is a type of cancer that starts in the bones and most frequently presents in children. When Hughes does see patients, they range in age from 6 months to 21 years.

But I digress…

The story of how Hughes was found out is a little complex.

The FBI was conducting an international crackdown on child pornography providers and users, and during February and March of this year, had been operating the servers of an “underground” website/forum which they had seized control of.

This website required users to purchase external software in order to gain access because the site masked Internet Protocol (IP) addresses so that users became “untraceable.” But since the FBI was operating the service, they were able to gather IP addresses of actual users. Hughes was one of those people.

The FBI subpoenaed Hughes’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) for his home address and obtained a search warrant, which they executed on June 5, in the presence of Hughes, his wife and his three children.

MugshotSA Berry testified as to the content of the files found on a thumb drive that Hughes had surrendered. She cited one example, a collection of 16 images named “ManFuckPreteenLatina,” which depicted a naked, pre-pubescent girl on a bed, first with a clothed man and then with a naked man, allowing the men to perform sexual acts on her. About 10GB, or 8,200 files, were found on that one thumb drive alone. Hughes’s computer was seized and the hard drive is being examined by a forensic team to determine if there are more files.

Hughes’s work computer was seized by UT/MD Anderson police before the search warrant was executed at his home. A cursory examination indicated that there were pornographic images of young girls on the hard drive, but a forensic exam must be performed to determine whether these images were actually downloaded at that location (which would add to the federal charges) or installed from a thumb drive or other external device, which would exempt those files from being included in the charges.

During cross-examination by the defense, it was established that Hughes had cooperated fully with law enforcement and turned over everything that was asked for. He admitted to having the files and even spoke to SA Berry about the waxing and waning of his habit.

While he claimed he had been too afraid to seek professional help because he thought he would be turned in to authorities, Hughes did say that he regularly confessed to his priest and that sometimes he would go months between “episodes” of looking at porn.

His triggers seemed to be anger and insomnia, and he found the dopamine rush he received from masturbating helpful to help him stay alert when it was time to go to work. Berry testified that it was her opinion that Hughes felt shame, guilt and remorse.

During SA Berry’s testimony, Hughes didn’t show much emotion at all. However, that was all about to change.

Defense Attorney Neal Davis called Hughes’s wife to the stand.*

Hughes lost it, and wept uncontrollably for a minute or two as his wife approached. He hung his head low and wiped the tears away with a tissue.

635694697743568182-dennis-hughesMrs. Hughes presented herself as incredibly strong in the face of the “shame” that her husband had brought her family, her church and her community. She was teary, but remained in control of herself until she was seated in the back of the courtroom after her testimony.

It was almost painful to watch this very conservatively dressed, Catholic woman testify to the events that had brought her to that point. Despite her shock at learning of her husband’s habits, she supported his pre-trial release and testified that, to her knowledge, he had not been inappropriate with any children in their lives. She said she would assist her husband with the conditions of his release if it was granted, and that she had already had their home Internet service disconnected.

Mrs. Hughes is a homemaker, and depends on her husband’s income. The prosecution tried to make a point of this and offered it as an explanation of Mrs. Hughes’s support of her husband.

Honestly, it is most likely a part of her support. Mrs. Hughes is a Notre Dame educated woman, but had not been employed since 2004, when she quit to raise her family. If her husband’s paychecks stopped coming, she would be in quite a pickle. It is unclear whether or not Hughes would continue receiving a salary if he was incarcerated. As a tenured professor, there is a strong likelihood that he would, but that is not guaranteed and is to be determined.

After she was finished testifying, Mrs. Hughes collapsed into the arms of her father, who was sitting in the back of the courtroom, and sobbed.

Zack and Judge Froeschner had a dialogue about Hughes’s release. It was apparent that His Honor was leaning toward granting the release, as long as Hughes followed the two pages’ worth of conditions during that time. Zack basically had no rebuttal…there was no indication that Hughes was a danger to others. He could be a danger to himself, but he had so far proven himself to have not crossed the line between fantasy and reality.

Judge Froeschner said that he didn’t see any danger that Hughes would pose to others if he were released. He said that Hughes had the support of his family and his community and would be closely monitored to make sure he was complying with all of the conditions set forth. Froeschner made it clear that he wanted to set a bond amount, and called a recess for the lawyers to work that out.

They agreed on $50,000. Hughes would be free soon.

Hughes was escorted out of the building by U.S. Marshals. Ultimately, it is up to them as to when to release Hughes, so he did not necessarily go home this day. However, if it wasn’t today, it will be soon.

Hughes will have to seek treatment for his addiction, stay away from schools and daycares, have “responsible adult supervision” when he is around children and refrain from any interface with the Internet. The conditions go on and on, but I won’t bore you (if I haven’t already).

If a plea bargain can not be agreed upon, Hughes will eventually go to trial. He is facing a minimum of 5 years in federal prison, with a maximum sentence of 20 years. His medical career is over. It is unclear if his marriage will survive this.

I left the courthouse feeling very sad because I knew this whole thing could have been prevented. It made me think of a former client who was labeled a sex offender for life because a few images of minors had been found on his computer. Of course, it is unknown if my client or Hughes would have escalated into actually hurting someone, but that doesn’t dampen the senselessness of it all.

The moral of the story is that if you or someone you know is dealing with pornography addiction, get help now. I don’t care if you’re Barack Obama – GET HELP. If you’re using the Internet to download videos or pictures of minors, you’re committing a FEDERAL OFFENSE. Even if it’s not minors you’re looking at, this escape is not worth losing your job, family and dignity over.

For more information about pornography addiction, click HERE. To find help for pornography addiction, click HERE and enter your ZIP code to find a helping professional near you.

Take care of yourselves out there.

*I am purposely not using the first names of Mrs. Hughes and the children to give some semblance of respect to their privacy.

To download supporting documents, click HERE (7 MB .pdf file).

Editor’s Corner: Inside the Courtroom – The Verdict (Arrijana Hill)

WARNING: Some of the details I discuss in this article are graphic. Reader discretion is advised. I do not reveal these details lightly. The purpose is to illustrate the brutality and selfishness of this crime. No disrespect is meant toward the deceased or her family. These are my opinions and observations and are not affiliated with Houston Community Newspapers and Media Group, Star Communications or 1013 Inc.

It’s all about who you know. That’s what really gets you what you want and/or need in this world. So, be kind to everyone you meet. Not because you may want something from him or her in the future, but because that’s the human thing to do. Plus, you never know what private pain a person is going through at that moment.

Opal Hill’s pain was evident last night in Judge Pat Sebesta’s courtroom as she read her Victim Impact Statement after the man convicted of killing her daughter was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 40 years. Of course, that’s if he earns it. Either way, he’ll be 58 years old at that time.

What a waste. Not only of Ryan Matthews’ life, but of Arrijana Hill’s and her two unborn babies. If you’re not familiar with the story, please read THIS. Matthews is barely 18 years old.

The jury was out for a little over five hours yesterday. They returned around 8:40 p.m. It was only through the kindness of a friend that I learned that a verdict would be returned last night. I hauled down to Angleton, getting there literally five minutes before the jury bell rang.

Mr. and Mrs. Hill were there with their support system, as well as Velma Guadiana, Pearland Police Department’s Crime Victims Liaison and Det. Jennifer Page. I thought it both fitting and ironic that it is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The Hills could be the poster family.

I gave the Hills my package of tissues, which I’d regret not keeping a few later. I smiled encouragement. What else could I do?

Matthews was brought back in the courtroom and then the jury filed in. Judge Sebesta warned the audience against outbursts of any kind and then read the verdicts.

GUILTY of count one – Capital Murder of Arrijana Hill and one of her unborn babies.

GUILTY of count two – Capital Murder of Arrijana Hill and the other unborn baby.

Quietly, most of us lost it. I personally was happy that this man got what was coming to him, but it still didn’t bring Arrijana back. It didn’t undo what was done. But it will ensure that the man who took those three lives will lose most, if not all, of his as well. It’s so sad. I needed my tissues.

Sebesta polled the jury. They all affirmed their guilty verdict.

After sentencing, Mrs. Hill slowly walked to the stand to give her Victim Impact Statement, with Mr. Hill standing behind her in strong support. Matthews kept looking at the floor, as he had when the verdict was read.

Tearfully, she faced Matthews for the first time in over a year, telling him of the, “Breathtaking agony, shattered dreams and seemingly aimless existence,” that they have been living.

“You deserve this for your selfishness and this senseless act and the impact it had on so many lives. You are a true depiction of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You could have chosen to move on and to do better in life, but you chose the coward’s way out. You get the coward’s reward,” she said.

Hill credited her faith in getting her and her family through this ordeal and finished her statement by reading the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014):

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
 I rise.

Yesterday, God’s people, Opal and David Hill, rose. They held their heads up high as they left the courtroom. Neither looked at Ryan Matthews again.

In Memory of Arrijana Hill (1997 – 2013)

Editor’s Corner: Inside the Courtroom – Ryan Matthews Trial

WARNING: Some of the details I discuss in this article are graphic. Reader discretion is advised. I do not reveal these details lightly. The purpose is to illustrate the brutality and selfishness of this alleged crime. No disrespect is meant toward the deceased or her family. Mr. Matthews is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. These are my opinions and observations and are not affiliated with Houston Community Newspapers and Media Group, Star Communications or 1013 Inc.

*********************

As a reporter, I get to share in many joys and positive moments in our community. I also hear the worst of the worst. I was on the scene soon after three Manvel High School students died in a one-vehicle crash. That vision often haunts my dreams.

Arrijana Hill

Arrijana Hill

When I first heard about the murder of Arrijana Hill on March 21, 2014, I was not yet employed by Houston Community Newspapers. As such, I could feel sympathy, but not get too close. However, sitting behind the alleged killer, Ryan Matthews, this morning, I thought I couldn’t get any closer.

The State’s opening statements were detailed and lasted over an hour. When the Deputy DA was finished, I felt like I had been run over by a truck. I can’t imagine how the Hills must feel. Such senselessness. Such selfishness.

Before the trial began, I sat in the mostly empty courtroom, finishing an article on the City Council meeting last night. Judge Pat Sebesta came down and chatted with me briefly, amiable as always. I received a text from my friend who wanted to sit in on the trial, trying to find the courtroom. So, when Ryan Matthews was brought in the room, I barely noticed.

He’s a lanky young man of 17, dressed in a sky blue button-down shirt and slacks. I half expected him to sit with the audience. He’s a handsome boy, but his eyes…they are sad. As he sat at the defendant’s table, I realized why.

How could this nice-looking, clean-cut young man choke his pregnant girlfriend to death with his own bare hands and then stab her in the neck? Looks are deceiving, as they say. Do any of us know what we’re capable of, really?

After some pre-trial business, the State presented its opening statements.

Assistant District Attorney Travis Townsend presented a timeline put together by text messages and phone calls between Ryan and Arrijana, Ryan and several other girls and Ryan and a friend that he often paid to give him rides.

Ryan Matthews was a talented athlete. He was a student at Pearland High School, participating in both football and track. He and his parents realized that he’d have a better opportunity for a scholarship if he finished high school at Dawson, but he was not zoned to attend DHS. He had a female friend that was zoned to Dawson, so he enrolled there using her address and transferred in 2013.

Arrijana Hill was also a talented athlete. She was a track star in several events, including the high jump, at Dawson High School. She had two brothers, one older and in college, and one younger in junior high. She had two loving and understanding parents, as demonstrated by their unconditional acceptance of her, even after she confided in them that she had gotten pregnant at the age of 16.

Ryan and Arrijana crossed paths in the athletics program and started, “hooking up,” as the kids say these days [mom moment…sorry].

The first time they had unprotected sex was on December 18, 2013. Once is all it takes.

Eleven days later, on December 29, Ryan texted Arrijana: u r on ur period, right?

Arrijana: uhh…I haven’t started yet, so idk [that’s “I don’t know” for you old folks]

On January 29, Ryan texted Arrijana again, asking if she had started her period yet. Arri, as Ryan called her, told him that she had missed her period in December and January. Ryan encouraged her to “punch urself in the stomach…lol.” In fact, that request would be sent to Arri over and over and over, with an occasional “Did u punch urself tonite? lol” in there.

LOL means “laughing out loud” for those unfamiliar with text abbreviations. However, “LOL” can be meant as truly laughing, indicating lightheartedness or as a way of saying, “I’m just joking.” It’s impossible to conclude the intent of this abbreviation on a text message, as many a couple can attest to after fighting over a misunderstanding of tone in a text…because there is no tone.

Ryan Matthews

Ryan Matthews

Ryan asked Arri about her period several times in February. She took a home pregnancy test on February 26 after staying home from school, feeling ill. It was positive. She visited her OB/GYN the next day, who confirmed her pregnancy, estimating that she was 12 weeks along. She texted Ryan to tell him. What she got back was surely disheartening. He encouraged her to get an abortion.

News travels fast, even in the largest of high schools, so it wasn’t long before other students were buzzing. On March 5, Ryan texted Arri that he was “pissed off” about the rumors and said “I’m gonna go off on the next f***er that talks to me.”

On March 6, Arri’s doctor informed her that she was going to have twins. She was excited and felt blessed. She told Ryan. His response: wtf? that’s not good news. [wtf = “what the f*ck”] Later, he added “can I punch u in the stomach pls lol” [pls = “please”] and “I cant believe this is f***ing happening to me.”

It’s unclear whether Arrijana knew that Ryan was talking to other girls during this time, but his text messages indicated that he was. On March 20, he texted the girl whose address he was using, telling her that he loved her.

On March 21, the day of the murder, Ryan texted Arri that he was leaving campus early and that he wanted her to come with him, presumably for sex. At 1:41 pm, Arrijana Hill sent the last text she would ever send. She told Ryan where she was in the school and asked him to text her when he was ready to go.

Though “normal” days showed Ryan sending 200+ texts, his phone showed no activity from 2:09 pm until 2:43 pm on March 21. That’s a little over 34 minutes. Was he silent because he was having a rendezvous with his lover? Or was he silent because he was killing Arrijana?

At 2:43, Ryan texted his friend and asked to be picked up. This friend thought that he was dropping Ryan off so that he could spend time with his girlfriend. Ryan paid the friend $20 regularly for rides.

Video surveillance showed Ryan and his friend leaving the Hill’s neighborhood at 3:11.

At 3:24, Ryan sent a text to Arri: “hey baby.” In the next 24 seconds, Ryan sent two other texts to her. Then, never again.

Arrijana’s younger brother got off the bus from junior high school at the front of his neighborhood at 4:22 pm and caught a ride home with a neighbor. He noticed that only one of the two locks on the back door were locked. As he entered, he noticed a broken lamp and some other displaced and broken items. He decided that he needed to get out of the house and went to a neighbor’s to call his mother.

At 4:36, Arri’s mother, Opal, texted her: “Where r u?”

Opal left work and arrived at her home soon after. Noticing the same things her son did, she left the house and called her husband, David, who came home immediately.

Opal called 9-1-1 at 5:01 pm.

David arrived home and searched the house, where he found his daughter’s body upstairs, lying in a pool of blood.

Pearland Police Department arrived on the scene at 5:10 pm. They noted no sign of forced entry (which can mean that the victim knew the attacker or that the attacker had a key to the home), that the scene looked “staged,” as in someone had gone through and knocked things over to make it look a certain way and that nothing was taken from the home (which would indicate that this was not a robbery gone bad).

Detectives continued their investigation, while Ryan transferred suddenly to Pasadena Memorial High School on April 5, which was also his 17th birthday.

The Medical Examiner conducted the autopsy, which showed that Arrijana had been asphyxiated and that her carotid artery had been punctured by a sharp instrument. There were other stab marks on her body. Ryan’s DNA was found in her vagina and anus.

Detectives collected samples from the clothing that Ryan was wearing on March 21, as well as from his backpack. Arrijana’s DNA was found on these items.

Defense attorneys argued that the investigation suffered from “tunnel vision” after someone suggested that the killer was Ryan on social media. They pointed out that a landscaper and his crew had been in the area during the time of the murder. They said there had been a footprint found that did not match Ryan’s shoe size. They repeatedly remind the jury to, “remember that he was a 16 year-old boy” and to try to think like a teenager would.

Will this be enough to exonerate Ryan Matthews? Only time and the trial will tell. It is MY opinion that the facts in this case will prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Ryan Matthews knowingly, and with premeditation, killed Arrijana Hill because she insisted on having her babies. He did not want to be tied down or have his bright future in sports lost because he was a father.

Yes, all teenagers are egocentric – they can only think about themselves. But not all teenagers are capable of murder. We’ll find out in time if Ryan Matthews is capable of the unthinkable. I believe he is…and now look at his bright future.

If convicted, Matthews will receive up to 40 years in prison without parole because he was a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime.

My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to David and Opal Hill and their two sons, as well as the parents of Ryan Matthews. I am also keeping all of the investigators in my thoughts as well, as it must have been (and may still be) very hard to deal with the death of such a young and promising life…plus two.

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Editor’s Corner: The Evolution of Evil: A Theoretical Explanation of Don Collins*

I recently covered several days of the capital murder trial of Don Willburn Collins, 29, who stood accused of tying Robert Middleton to a tree and setting him on fire in 1998 when Collins was 13 and Middleton was 8. Middleton miraculously survived the third degree burns over 99% of his body for 12 years, but died of skin cancer allegedly caused by the burns in 2011 when he was 20.

The trial concluded yesterday (Tuesday, 2/10/15) with the jury finding Collins guilty and sentencing him to the maximum of 40 years (since he was a minor at the time of the burning, he could not be sentenced to life in prison or receive the death penalty).

The trial was moved from Montgomery County to Galveston County because the case had been in the news on and off for 17 years and the concern about finding unbiased jurors was well-founded.

I kept hearing the same thing over and over from random people: How could a person do this to someone else? How does a person get to be so evil?

I pondered those questions as I watched the trial, paying special attention to Collins’ reactions (or really lack of reactions) and trying to piece together a timeline of his childhood that might explain how he became an obvious sociopath.

For every “evil” or “monstrous” person, there’s a story. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, or even explain it, but it does give one insight into how these people evolve.

Collins lost his mother around age 8 and his father had never been around. For a young boy, the absence of a father is especially damaging. I won’t go in depth here, but if you’re interested, make sure to watch the documentary Absent, which is available on Netflix.

Collins became an orphan at a young age. He was then passed around from relative to relative, basically sleeping on floors and couches, as his family was lower middle-class. He ended up at an uncle’s house in the small town of Splendora, TX in a neighborhood that was very rural.

This uncle – actually, many of Collins’ relatives – had a history of criminal behavior. It was never mentioned in the trial, but I am convinced that Collins was sexually abused as a child based on several factors that are “red flags” to me as a trained mental health professional. I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this uncle had participated in that abuse.

The rest of this article is purely my opinion, based on facts and observations I took from the case*. No one has been charged with abusing Collins and I am drawing conclusions based on statistical probabilities. As always, all parties are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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Yearbook photo

Yearbook photo

Picture if you can, an 8 year-old boy with ginger hair and freckles. He’s just lost his mother, the only person in the world who ever really showed him love. He has no contact with his father. In the midst of his grief, he is placed with a relative who lives in the woods in a mobile home, which really isn’t big enough for the whole family. This young orphan is told to sleep on the couch or the floor. No one is particularly kind to the boy; he feels like a burden and is very angry at the loss of his mom and the absence of his dad. He pushes people away because he doesn’t want to be abandoned yet again.

He’s in that home for 5 years. During that time, his uncle rapes him several times. The young man’s anger builds, and he blames everyone. He feels powerless, helpless and trapped. The people that surround him drink heavily and do drugs, and they openly share their substances with the boy. He uses and drinks. He finds that it helps him feel like he fits in somewhere and sometimes dulls his anger.

He is especially angry toward families that appear complete and happy. This is because he is jealous and feels like these people don’t deserve what he can’t have. He wants to take it away from them somehow.

He starts touching the neighborhood children, both boys and girls. This builds up to actual molestation and rape, for which he will be prosecuted in the future. This is one way to hurt happy people. He knows this because he’s experienced it.

When someone he considers to be part of the “enemy” group, which gets larger every day, commits the slightest perceived infraction against him, he feels that he must punish them. He does this in various ways, ranging from scaring kids to stomping on the head of a neighbor girl’s 10-week old kitten, killing it.

By the time this boy reaches puberty, he’s primed for more violence. No one has shown him love or compassion for years. He’s been abused emotionally, physically and sexually by the very people who give him food and shelter. He’s learned that the entire world is against him and he must defend himself, sometimes making the first move to prevent perceived pain later.

By age 13, the boy is regularly molesting and raping neighborhood children. The trial showed that there were at least 4 victims of his sexual violence in the span of a year, and there may be more who haven’t come forward.

Rape makes the boy feel powerful and in control, something that he doesn’t ever feel in any other situation. He likes it when kids are scared of him. Some of his family members even encourage him to keep hurting people.

When he rapes 7 year-old Robert Middleton, it’s suddenly not enough. He knows that Robert is part of a complete, happy family. He tells Middleton that he better not tell anyone, or he will get killed. Middleton tells no one.

Middleton’s mom, however, notices a change in her son’s behavior. She feels like this “creepy kid” in the neighborhood is stalking him. It was only a few years ago that she had pulled Collins off of her daughter because he was trying to pull down the daughter’s underwear. Moms know when something is wrong with their kids. She asks Robert about it. Robert assures her that Collins “is being nice.”

About 2 weeks after the rape, Robert is tied to a tree, doused with gasoline and set on fire by Collins, who points the finger at another kid who hadn’t even been in the neighborhood when the incident happened.

Collins spends some time in Juvenile Detention. He drifts around after that, doing more time for theft, sexual assault and failing to register as a sex offender in two counties.

Collins in 2015 (Photo: NY Daily News)

Collins in 2015 (Photo: NY Daily News)

When Robert Middleton dies in 2011, Collins officially becomes accused of murder. He is remanded into County Jail in 2013, where he gets tattoos of demonic figures, a revolver pointed into the open mouth of a skull and a swastika on his scalp and arms.

He is now fully evolved. He shows no emotion except an occasional smirk as the witnesses recount the horrors they have experienced. He is all-powerful now. No one can hurt him anymore.

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*I am NOT condoning the actions of Collins in ANY way. This piece was meant as a theoretical explanation of how a person becomes sociopathic. This piece is entirely my opinion and does not reflect the views of The Silvercreek Tribune or Houston Community Newspapers.

Behind the Scenes at NASA’s One Year Event

On Thursday Jan. 15, NASA’s Johnson Space Center held a media event and a NASA Social about Expedition 44, which will take Astronaut Scott Kelly and Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko to the International Space Station (ISS), where they will remain for 365 days.

This mission has three purposes: to improve life on Earth, to experience low-Earth orbit for an extended time and to form international partnerships.

These goals will be met by the conduction of 400-500 scientific investigations that will take place during the one-year stay.

Kelly brings to the table his twin brother, former Astronaut Mark Kelly, who will provide control, or baseline, data on Earth while his twin spends a year in low-gravity conditions.

NASA Social participants were treated to two news conferences, a behind-the-scenes look at JSC and two informational briefings about space food and the Human Research Program.

Enjoy the slideshow below:

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The Year in Review: Editor’s Corner

Tomorrow marks a new year. Since time is a man-made concept, I don’t put a whole lot of stock into its passing. But I can’t ignore the world around me, so here are some reflections on 2014. I’m sure many of you will relate to some of it. That’s because our humanity ties us all together.

I won’t say it was a great or an awful year. Good things happened and not-so-good things happened as well. That’s the nature of life. The only constant is change. Some “bad” things turn out for the best; some “good” things bring much pain.

I retired after 15 years of counseling and got a great job with Houston Community Newspapers in late September. It has broadened my horizons, allowing me the opportunity to learn about and experience new things.

I got to ride in the Blue Angels’ C-130 “Fat Albert;” attend the first test launch of the new NASA Orion spacecraft; talk to a professor in Colorado who hails from Friendswood about how he’s exposing SEC naughtiness; meet blind “Master Chef” winner Christine Ha, who granted me an interview; speak at length with the new Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton; tour a leading-edge stem cell laboratory; meet numerous city and state administrators and officials, including Houston Mayor Annise Parker State Representative Ed Thompson, Congressman-Elect Wayne Faircloth, County Commissioner-Elect Ryan Cade, County Judge-Elect Matt Sebesta, Justice of the Peace Gordon Starkenburg, all of our local city councilmen and their wives, wonderful community leaders from the Lions Clubs, the Chambers of Commerce and various Economic Development Associations and learn a LOT about politics and the inner workings of a city of 108,000 people.

If you know me at all, then you know that I’d never in a million years think I’d find some of that stuff interesting at all (ahem, politics). But, I realize that I am finally practicing what I preach about learning about something before making judgments about it. I’ve also learned that local politics are much more interesting to me than national, but it’s all very complicated. I’ve learned that all of our city council members, the city manager and the mayor are very decent guys with the same desire to see the best things for Pearland happen, even if they disagree on what those things are sometimes.

I’ve also been able to use my position at HCN to help get news out from the local police department, where I’ve been a volunteer for over a year now. Now especially, in this tense climate, I find myself driven to educate the public about our men and women in blue and about what they do, the restrictions they have and what they deal with on a daily basis. It’s given me the opportunity to get to know the administrators and officers better, and I am very proud of the department we have here. They’re not perfect, but we are truly blessed to have them.

I’ve said goodbye to clients who have trusted me with the most personal details of their lives. I’ve told them all that I learned as much from them as they did from me. I was honored to be trusted by them and to have been given the opportunity to help them find their way. I still talk to a few clients by phone or Skype, and I am grateful to have them in my life.

I’ve had my heart soar and had it broken. I’ve been in absolute ecstasy and pit-bottom depression. But I have learned from every moment, and that’s all that matters to me.

I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane when my good friend was accepted into the Police Academy. I experienced zero gravity on “Fat Albert.” I saw and heard the incredible Orion launch, propelled by a Delta IV Heavy Rocket. I rode with my daughter during her first times behind the wheel of an automobile.

I am not the same person today that I was on January 1. I am a better person; more tolerant, more curious, more open and less scared of life. I now crave adventure and have a wanderlust I have never experienced before. I am excited about what the Universe will throw my way in 2015 – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Happy New Year to you and yours! I wish you all the best in 2015 and beyond!

Here’s a slideshow of just a few events I’ve been to and people I’ve met this year:

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Op-Ed: Thinking Critically to Move Towards Education and Peace

**This piece is entirely my opinion based on my own research and weeding out actual facts about the issues presented. It does not represent the opinions or the endorsement of any company, non-profit, person or other entity. – Stacey**

That being said, I’m sad, y’all. What is going on in this world we live in? I’m afraid that I may be a (small) cog in the biggest problem: the media.

I am a reporter for a small group of community newspapers. I like reporting the “good stuff,” not who got killed, raped, assaulted, threatened, etc. I think people like to read positive things. Obviously though, as a whole, the masses are also hungry for the negative. So, based on supply-and-demand, which 24-hour news channels created the supply for, demand increases. And so on.

I remember when things were first going down in Ferguson, MO. I don’t watch or read “big media” unless I have to, but I did hear about this WHITE police officer that shot an unarmed BLACK teenager. That’s ALL I heard for the longest time.

I tend to suspend judgment on an issue until I can get the facts, but I do see how it would be easy to just parrot what’s all over the news and social media. And parroting was rampant. It still is.

I was horrified at the thought of any officer shooting any unarmed person just for the heck of it. I knew there had to be more to the story. I couldn’t find it on social media or on the big news channels, though.

Since I am a volunteer for my local police department and a supporter of law enforcement, I have other sources in this area. I went to my “go to” sites: PoliceOne.com, Law Officer, the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Information was scarce for a while, but the facts leaked out slowly. After all, the matter was under investigation, and unlike the media and the masses, law enforcement officers and organizations are not allowed to say anything about an open investigation.

Their silence was interpreted by the big media as some sort of admission of guilt or an indication that someone was hiding something. That’s just not true. Even locally, members of the department cannot and will not talk to anyone about an open investigation. Period.

The reasons for the silence make sense if you think about it critically. If any member of law enforcement speculated about an open case, those opinions could (and probably would) be interpreted as fact. That person’s speculations would not only contaminate the investigation, but may produce bias in the people of the community and even in the people doing the investigation.

Also, when things are reported before investigations are complete, small details can make big waves.

There is a department elsewhere in Texas that made the mistake of posting a report about a two-car accident on their Facebook page. Within minutes, commenters were giving out the names and facts about the drivers, and soon after that, rumors about the drivers started flying: he was drunk, she was on drugs, I know him and he’s a real jerk. The department had to post a warning about discussing personal details and took the original post down.

No one had even been hurt in the accident. The department had posted it to alert citizens about road congestion around the wreck. They had good intentions, but what is that they say about the road to hell?

When an incident like the one in Ferguson happens, the agency has to conduct an internal investigation and may even hire a third party to do a separate query into the facts to determine whether or not the officer abused his duty to uphold the law.

In Ferguson’s case, the facts were submitted to a Grand Jury. And there were LOTS of facts to be gathered and presented, witnesses to interview (many of them were spoken to numerous times), video footage to watch and police band recordings to listen to. If you’d like to see everything that was presented to the Grand Jury, visit http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/11/us/ferguson-grand-jury-docs/index.html.

In the meantime, the silence from the police department left them open to threats of death, obstacles to doing their jobs (to the point where many officers couldn’t go home to their families for days) and the frustration of not being able to say anything. Their silence also gave the big media folks time to fill in the blanks with speculation and falsehood. It also gave the teenager’s family and their supporters time to get really, really mad.

And who blames them for being mad? Not me. I’d be mad as hell, too. I’d be hurting. I’d want to get revenge. I’d probably even want to stir up some trouble. Losing a family member or friend is one of the most painful things a human being can go through. Extreme emotions are common. It’s what people do with these feelings that matter in cases like this.

I can’t say for sure what I’d do if I were the parent of a teenager who was killed by a policeman. I do know what I wouldn’t do, however. I wouldn’t incite riots or violence and if others did in my child’s name, I’d do whatever I could to stop them. I’d want to keep my pain private. I’d definitely talk to members of the agency that employed the officer and I’d probably not be nice about it. But that’s me.

I don’t mean to imply that Michael Brown’s parents incited riots or even wanted them. It got to be bigger than them and bigger than their son. It morphed from a tragic incident to a war between the races and a war between the people and the police. I can’t imagine that Brown’s parents ever really wanted that.

But it happened. The first person to get the idea to riot and loot most likely recruited some buddies to do it with him or her. Herd mentality takes over in human beings rather quickly. It’s ‘if they’re doing it, then it’s OK for me to do it as well.’ And who wouldn’t get angrier in the middle of destroying a store or a car or making off with stolen goods? Their actions may have initially been driven by herd mentality, but they were sustained by anger, which may or may not have been individually present when a person first decided to participate.

When a person dies, it is only natural to want to blame someone. If it is a natural death, many people go through phases of blaming God. But when a police officer kills a person, it is easy to place blame. The problem is that the blame starts getting generalized to every person in that occupational field. Even if Officer Wilson had been indicted, the anti-police movement was already in full swing. An indictment wouldn’t have brought peace anyway.

The Grand Jury no-billed Wilson after hearing, seeing and reviewing everything that they possibly could. Having read most of the evidence presented to them myself, I agree with their decision. It doesn’t change the fact that a kid is dead. But, when you look at the facts, Michael Brown decided to kill himself the minute he took a step toward Wilson after having already proven himself violent and ignoring Wilson’s warnings to stay put. People say Brown was “unarmed,” but sometimes people don’t need weapons to be armed. The kid was huge. He was a weapon himself.

That being said, I want to state that I am not some blind follower of law enforcement. There was recently an incident in south Texas in which an officer TASEREed an elderly man. I saw the video. It’s under investigation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the officer was found to have abused his authority. There’s nothing “right” about that…ever. However, I don’t think I’ll run down there to riot or protest if the officer is cleared. In fact, I’ve stayed out of it. It’s not my monkey and it’s not my circus. Neither was Ferguson.

This new wave of race wars and anti-police movements are my circus, though. It’s America’s circus, whether you lend your voice to it or not. You are being represented in one way or another by big media anyway.

I say all of this long-windily to encourage everyone to start thinking critically. Get the facts from several, dependable sources. FOX, NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC and all of the other giant media conglomerates are not dependable. They all have an agenda. They want to tell you what to think. And different media outlets present opposing points of view on purpose. They want to stir the people up. Anxious and angry people are easy to manipulate and control. Think about that next time you take something you heard on the news as gospel.

There is no easy solution to these problems. There’s a pro-police movement that’s gaining momentum, but all that does is give opposition to the anti-police movement. You can’t have a war with only one side.

Race issues have been in existence since the beginnings of humanity. I know it’s worse in some parts of the country than others. There are plenty of racists out there of ALL colors and ethnicities. Most of their bias comes from ignorance.

Perhaps the best baby step toward solving these problems is the use of critical thinking and education to learn about “the other side.” Find the opposition’s humanity. That, after all, is what we ALL have in common.

Oh, and turn off the news already. It’ll make you a happier person.

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Behind-the-Scenes at Ellington Airport

I am telling you – I have the best job EVER! My recent employment at Houston Community Newspapers has opened so many doors for me and I am very grateful for these opportunities.

Not only have I been able to cover many inspiring local events, but I have had unique opportunities to cover unique things outside of Pearland.

Mayor Annise Parker (R)

Mayor Annise Parker (R)

Most recently, I have been able to attend the unveiling of the Lone Star Flight Museum plans (and ended up sitting next to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, which was cool no matter how you feel about her), a media event with The Blue Angels and yesterday I got to ride in the cockpit of their C-130 (“Fat Albert”) and ended up next to Master Chef Season 3 winner and native Houstonian Christine Ha!

It is my utmost pleasure to be able to share some behind-the-scenes things with the readers of The Tribune – things that may not make it to print.

So, in that spirit, below are links to a couple of YouTube videos that I took with my GoPro on the C-130 yesterday. I was bummed that the sun prevented me from capturing the full view out of the cockpit windows. We were mostly flying below 3,000 feet…and if you happen to live near Ellington Airport, we probably buzzed your rooftop! Fat Albert flies at about 400mph and can keep that speed up at extremely low altitudes. At one point, we were about 250 feet above the airstrip (not landing, either)!

Take-off consisted of a brief flat acceleration period followed by a 45-degree upturn. It was close to a rocket launch! The pilot then did a nose dive, creating a zero gravity environment for a few seconds! We had moments of high-G upturns, and I was holding my video camera (they ran out of mounts on the plane) so it was quite a struggle to keep my arm up so I could keep filming! We went in for a landing after about 7 minutes, and we headed straight for the ground. At the last minute, the pilot pulled up and leveled us off to land safely. This C-130 is a HUGE plane and it’s amazing that it is so incredibly maneuverable!

I hope you enjoy the videos and I hope to see some of you out at the Wings Over Houston Airshow this weekend at Ellington Airport! For more information, visit WingsOverHouston.com.

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