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Longview woman pleads guilty to 2016 murder, gets 30-year sentence

A Longview woman was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder in the death of a man after a May 2016 robbery.

Kambresha Williams, 24, was sentenced by 124th District Judge Alfonso Charles while being given credit for 1,040 days she spent in Gregg County Jail, according to court staff.

She will have to serve 15 years before being eligible for parole, Charles explained after the sentencing. He said murder is a first-degree felony punishable from five to 99 years and a fine as high as $10,000.

Williams was booked into the Gregg County Jail in August 2016 on a murder warrant and a grand jury indictment on a charge of aggravated robbery in connection with the March 23, 2016, fatal shooting of Devin Newson, 20, of Longview.

Charles later declared Williams incompetent to stand trial, and she was taken to North Texas State Hospital in Vernon for treatment. She was rebooked into Gregg County Jail on Oct. 17 and has been in jail since on $750,000 in bonds.

Williams was the third defendant to be prosecuted for the robbery and murder of Newson. All three were indicted in October 2016 by a grand jury on murder charges.

Brenndrick Kesean Lilly, now 23, of Longview was sentenced in November 2017 to 35 years in prison for the killing of Newson and received a 20-year sentence for aggravated robbery. The sentences were to be served concurrently.

Kentrell Jorail Smith, now 23, of Longview drew a 10-year sentence with deferred adjudication in December 2017 in the robbery that left Newson dead. Deferred adjudication is similar to probation, but if the sentence is successfully completed, the case is dismissed.

Arrest warrants for the three defendants show that what started as a robbery evolved into homicide at a convenience store near Interstate 20.

Then-Deputy District Attorney Chris Botto said during the trial of Lilly in November 2017 that Newson set up a drug deal with someone he trusted, “with a woman he had regular contact with.” He said Lilly, Smith and Williams set up Newson to rob him.

Botto said the trio got Newson to go to his usual selling spot, a Food Fast convenience store on U.S. 259 near Interstate 20, where he was shot in the chest.

Williams said Newson and Lilly struggled over a gun before it was fired, according to the arrest warrant for Lilly. Newson was found dead in a vehicle that had crashed into a metal storage building when a police officer arrived at the scene, according to testimony during Lilly’s trial.


At crowded Mexican shelter, migrants wait months to claim asylum; some opt to cross river instead

REYNOSA, Mexico — Hundreds of migrants are stuffed into the Senda de Vida shelter on the banks of the Rio Grande, a stone’s throw from Texas, waiting for a chance to claim asylum in the United States.

They say they want to do it the “right way” — by turning themselves in to U.S. authorities at the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge — rather than cross the river illegally. But many are growing tired of waiting weeks after putting their names on a list, maintained on the Mexican side and used to ration precious access to the nearby port of entry, that keeps getting longer as more and more people arrive from the south.

Venezuelan Martin Gonzalez, traveling with his three kids, said he was told by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to come to Senda de Vida and “wait your turn.”

“What I’m asking for are my rights,” Gonzales said. “CBP told me, ‘Go to Senda de Vida, put your name on the list and wait your turn.’ And I’ve been waiting here 65 days.” Last week, he said, only 18 people were called to cross the bridge and make their asylum claims.

U.S. authorities say they only have so much capacity to process asylum-seeking migrants at ports of entry. According to a recent Politfact analysis, this practice of limiting entries, known as “metering,” has existed in some form at least since 2016, under the Obama administration.

The number of people who have to wait in Mexico is likely to grow significantly as the Trump administration moves to expand the so-called “remain in Mexico” policy. The program, in which asylum seekers must wait in Mexico while their cases move through backlogged U.S. immigration courts, began on the California-Mexico border before being extended to El Paso. Soon, officials expect migrants to be sent back to Nuevo Laredo, across the Rio Grande from Laredo, under the program, according to news reports.

Despite the risk of drowning or being taken against their will in Reynosa — the kidnapping capital of Mexico — some at Senda de Vida have given up waiting and have already left the relative safety of the shelter to press their luck at the bridges or crossing the river, migrants here said. Some said they have been waiting as long as three months.

Over the weekend, The Texas Tribune interviewed migrants from around the world — they had come from Central America, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, Cameroon and even Bangladesh. Seven Bangladeshis at Senda de Vida, speaking in halting English, said they were kidnapped and robbed at gunpoint of everything they had — at least $700 and all their belongings — in Nuevo Laredo.

They pointed to cellphone pictures showing Mexican news reports of their capture and are now penniless, unsure of their next move.

“I want to go USA for save my life,” said Fokhrul Islam, one of the Bangladeshi migrants. “Help us, please. I request to immigration to help us.”

Not everyone at the shelter was impatient. A Russian man named Jason said he is on the run from his government, which he said harasses members of his Libertarian Party. He arrived this past week with his wife and said they were grateful to be safe inside the walls of Senda de Vida and planned to wait as long as it took to present their asylum requests.

“I stayed in line, and then get to the middle of the bridge,” he said. “I said I want to apply for political asylum, and they explained they had no room for new immigrants so I need to wait. That’s OK. It’s an understandable situation.”

Migrants at the shelter, along with its director, Hector Silva, say migrants are also facing extortion from corrupt Mexican authorities. They say friends and relatives who have crossed over told them they had to pay $1,200 to $1,500 to corrupt immigration agents for the chance to get to the bridge and claim asylum — a pattern the Tribune documented last year.

Emails sent to Mexico’s immigration agency and the Mexican Attorney General’s Investigation Unit for Crimes Against Migrants went unanswered.


Local
Longview officials: Budget outlook positive heading into new fiscal year

As budget-writing season begins, Longview administrators anticipate 2019-20 revenues to be good news, as reports show preliminary property values up about one-half percent and year-to-date sales tax revenues up 7.5 percent from the previous year

For the past few weeks, supervisors and directors of various municipal departments have made presentations to the city’s budget team consisting of City Manager Keith Bonds, Finance Director Angela Coen, Administration Director Mary Ann Miller and Media and Tourism Manager Shawn Hara.

Bonds will present his 2019-20 budget proposal to the City Council on July 25. Usually, members of the council aren’t directly involved at this stage of the budget, Hara said.

“Throughout the year, Keith (Bonds) will have conversations with individual council members about needs or wishes they have for their district or citywide issues, and he tries to keep those in mind as he is preparing the budget,” Hara said.

The city is operating on a $169.3 million budget in 2018-19.

A year ago, Bonds’ forecast predicted $32.86 million in sales tax revenues and $29.21 million in property tax revenues.

“The outlook is much stronger this year than it has been for the last several years dating back to the decline in sales tax revenue in 2015,” Hara said. “Our sales tax revenue has continued to be positive, and our property tax revenue appears to be steady. We’ve made several cuts to the budget over the last several years, so our focus has been on continuing to be as lean as possible while taking care of needs that are brought forward by departments.”

Property owners will see an increase in their bills this year for the first time since 2014.

The rate has been 50.99 cents per $100 property valuation for the past five years, but voters approved a $104.2 million bond package in November, and the city sold the first installment of those bonds earlier this year.

The initial estimate was about a 5-cent property tax increase in the first fiscal year, Hara said.

“We are still estimating it to be very close to that, pending the property value estimate which will come from the appraisal district later in July,” he said.

When asked about what one-time or capital expenses might be included in the budget, Hara answered that it was too early to say specifically.

“We are still evaluating budget needs,” he said.


Local
Former Longview missionary pilot killed in plane crash in Guatemala

A missionary pilot who recently had moved his family from Longview to Guatemala died Friday from injuries received in a plane crash the day before on a mission trip.

Luke Sullivan, a 2013 graduate of LeTourneau University, was the aviation director and pilot on a trip with Paradise Bound Ministries, accompanied by visiting missionary pilot Bruce Van Fleet. The plane went down Thursday about 20 miles from Guatemala City, seriously injuring both men, according to the Associated Press.

“I’m sorry to report that (LeTourneau) graduate Luke Sullivan has passed away in a plane crash in Guatemala,” university President Dale Lunsford said in a written statement. “He was only 28 and leaves a young family behind.”

Sullivan graduated with a degree in aeronautical science with a missions aviation concentration, university spokeswoman Janet Ragland said. His wife, Ashley Bonilla Sullivan, is a 2014 LeTourneau graduate .

The couple has three daughters, and a fourth on the way, according to Paradise Bound Ministries, which is based in Zeeland, Michigan.

On March 1, Paradise Bound Ministries said in a note on its website that its Guatemala plane was returning to the Central American nation after being in the United States for engine repair. It said the repairs were successful, and the aircraft had logged more than 15 flight hours without incident.

Paradise Bound Ministries’ website says its Guatemala mission trips include “home construction, medical clinics and Gospel presentations.” The ministry is willing “to do whatever it takes to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost and dying in Guatemala,” according to its website.

“Luke’s heart and passion were to use aviation to share Christ with the Guatemalan people,” according to the written statement from Paradise Bound Ministries. “He and his wife love the Lord and love the Guatemalan people.”

Sullivan’s funeral will be July 9 or 10 at the Fellowship Church in Houston, a Facebook post by Ashley Sullivan said. The date will be finalized when Sullivan’s body is returned to the United States, she wrote.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family, Lunsford said. As of 9:15 p.m. Monday, it had raised $75,268 of a $100,000 goal.

Luke Sullivan’s Facebook page shows an event he and his wife hosted in February to explain to their upcoming move to their friends. The GoFundMe page says they moved to Guatemala at the beginning of June.

“(Sullivan’s) sacrificial life does remind us of what is ‘best,’” Lunsford said. “As Paul wrote to the Philippians, ‘It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.’”