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Friday, April 22, 2011

Gay rights groups want shootings prosecuted as hate crime

Jose Alfonso Aviles taken to Travis County Jail.
Jose Alfonso Aviles taken
to Travis County Jail.
Norma Hurtado was called bold and funny.
Norma Hurtado was called
bold and funny.
Maria Hurtado was described as daughter's champion.
Maria Hurtado was described
as daughter's champion.

By Isadora Vail and Claudia Grisales -

The shooting deaths of a lesbian and her mother this week should be prosecuted as a hate crime, several gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual groups in Austin said Thursday.
Prosecutors have said they must wait for the investigation to be complete before determining whether they can classify it as a hate crime.
Norma Hurtado, 24, and her mother, Maria Hurtado, 57, were shot Monday evening after Jose Alfonso Aviles knocked on their door in Southeast Austin, police have said. The younger Hurtado and Aviles' 18-year-old daughter were in a months-long relationship that Aviles did not accept, police have said. Friends have said that Aviles did not approve of his daughter's lesbian relationship.
Aviles, 45, was arrested Tuesday near San Antonio and is charged with capital murder. He was taken Thursday from the Bexar County Jail to the Travis County Jail, and immigration authorities placed a hold on him, according to court records. He is being held without bail and could face up to life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.
Police said they have identified a second person who was with Aviles during the shootings Monday and who has not been charged. They are still investigating that person's involvement, officials said.
Meghan Stabler, a board member of the Human Rights Campaign in Austin, said Aviles should be prosecuted under hate crime laws. Gay rights groups Atticus Circle, Out Youth and Equality Texas agreed.
"We understand that the penalties for capital murder and a hate crime are the same, but this wasn't just murder; it was a biased and motivated hate crime," Stabler said.
News of the Hurtado shootings have been picked up by media and gay rights blogs across the world, including Europe and Australia. Among those decrying the targeting of a gay woman was celebrity blogger Perez Hilton.
Out Youth, a Central Texas group that supports gay youth issues, held a vigil Thursday night for the two women outside its offices in Central Austin.
More than 100 friends, family and supporters, including City Council Member Randi Shade, lit candles and shared memories about Norma Hurtado.
"It's amazing that this many people are here. We may not have known them, but we remember them, and tonight shows that total strangers can fight for the same cause," said one of the attendees, John Frederick.
"This isn't an isolated incident in Austin because people are literally having to pay a price for simply trying to be themselves," said Candice Towe, executive director at Out Youth.
Friends said the younger Hurtado met Aviles' daughter at a Wendy's in South Austin where they both worked. Co-workers were distraught, said Dave Near, president of Pisces Foods LP, which operates Wendy's in Texas.
"There seems to be a haze over everybody right now," Near said. "They are in some disbelief, especially someone so important and well-liked in our group."
Friends described Hurtado as bold and funny and a natural soccer player and a leader. Her mother, Maria Hurtado, was probably one of her biggest champions, they said.
Virginia Coy, an Austin event-planner and a friend of Norma Hurtado, said she will hold a fundraiser this month for the family at her cousin's bar in East Austin.
"I have never experienced anyone showing hate toward me," said Coy, 55. But this "put a scare in me. I know that it's out there. But I never thought I would know someone who was
so near to me and for something like this to happen."
Camille DePrang said she met Hurtado at Johnston High School in 2003, when Hurtado was a student and DePrang was an "in-the-closet teacher." She described Hurtado, even in her teens, as strong and confident.
DePrang said she didn't feel comfortable with her students knowing she was gay, but said Hurtado had no trouble reading her.
"The way she looked at me was like she was telling me she knew already, and I feel gratitude now for that," DePrang said. "I was looking forward to some random time that I would run into Norma and jokingly say, 'How could you mess with me like that?' and then on the other hand I'd thank her because I will never be in the closet again."

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