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Newsmonger: How a purse snatcher got life in prison, ICE lawsuit over DREAM-like deferral

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A photo of Vanessa Pitts, 25, shown in court last week during the trial of Lorenzo Thompson. A jury convicted Thompson of capital murder, sentencing him to life in prison for the bizarre robbery attempt that ended in Pitts' death.

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It's tough distinction in this case, said University of Texas law professor George Dix. The Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas has interpreted Sec. 19.03(a)(2) of the penal code as saying a crime can be tagged capital murder when you kill "in the course of committing or attempting to commit" a number of given felonies, like robbery, on the stipulation that the state proves "specific intent to kill." By contrast, Sec. 19.02(b)(3), Dix said, defines non-capital murder as someone who commits or attempts to commit a felony and in the process "commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death on an individual," like the charge felony murder, he said, punishable by five years to life in prison with the possibility of parole. At the end of trial testimony, the jury in Thompson's case was allowed to consider a felony murder charge but rejected it. "In a horrendous case like this, for the jury to make those very fine distinctions, distinctions that criminal law professors and philosophers tend to draw, that may be unrealistic," Dix said. "I'd hate to be in that situation."

ICE lawsuit over DREAM-like deferral

On August 15 immigrant rights groups and undocumented students across the country cheered as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began taking applications for the long-awaited deferred action program President Obama and his Department of Homeland Security announced in June. Under the measure, a DREAM Act-like directive, undocumented immigrants brought into the country before they were 16 could apply for a two-year deportation deferral, provided they have a high school education or military service and no criminal record. By last week, with a filing in a Dallas federal court, Kris Kobach, architect of Arizona's controversial "papers please" anti-immigration law, sought to have the program stopped. On behalf of 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, including one in Texas, Kobach filed suit against ICE and DHS last week, claiming Obama's directive, a process known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, violates the Immigration and Nationality Act. The lawsuit seeks to have a federal judge strike down the directive. The lawsuit also names as a plaintiff Chris Crane, who heads the National ICE Council, the union representing agents that has in the past issued a vote of no confidence in ICE director John Morton for his 2010 directive to focus ICE enforcement and deportation on undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes.

Many from the GOP wing, including Texas' own U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, have derided the program as "backdoor amnesty." Kobach, Kansas' Secretary of State, has dipped his foot in Texas before when it comes to immigration. In addition to helping draft Arizona's SB 1070, Kobach, an informal immigration advisor to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, authored a Farmers Branch ordinance aimed at keeping undocumented immigrants from renting apartments or houses within city limits.

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