Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cruise take 4

Like prisoners given a reprieve, we made our way back to the awaiting Rogue and after punching in our next destination, Georgetown, Texas, we were off to visit our longtime friends, Scott and Silvia.

Georgetown was named for George Washington Glasscock (he must have had a terrible childhood) who donated the land for the new town. Georgetown is the county seat of Williamson County, which was formed on March 13, 1848 after early settlers peptitioned the State to create it outr of Milam County. The county was originally to have been named San Gabriel County, but was instead named after Robert McAlpin Williamson (aka Three-Legged Willie), a Texas statesman and judge at the time.

Ok…if you must know, Williamson got his name because, at the age of 15, he contracted tubercular arthritis that caused his right leg to permanently stiffen at a 90 degree angle. In order to walk, a wooden leg had to be fastened to his knee. Because of this, he later acquired the nickname "Three-Legged-Willie" (I was really hoping for something more interesting).

Scott and Silvia live in one of Del Webb’s Sun City senior developments in Georgetown on the outskirts of the Texas Hill Country. Residency is restricted to persons over age 55, or in the case of couples, one of which must be 55 years of age. Sun City is made up predominately of single-family dwellings, but also has a small number of duplexes. Total buildout will be 7,500 homes for about 14,000 residents.

Interesting thing is the power of these Seniors.Because of its size relative to the city (pop. about 47,000) and the high growth rate within Sun City, the project has a significant impact on the local demographics. In elections, voter turnout in Sun City precincts typically exceeds 90 percent. As a result of redistricting of council districts in 2011, two of the six single-member city council districts are composed predominantly of Sun City residents, and the current mayor, George Garver is a Sun City resident and was a former city councilmember.

Georgetown is a bedroom community just north of Austin in the I-45 corridor. It is the County Seat of Williamson County and has been around since the 1840s. Thus it has a wonderful town square with a cool Courthouse. Of course, like many other county courthouses, Williamson County has seen several courthouses over the years. Humble beginnings as a small log cabin courthouse and replaced with larger and more formidable brick and stone buildings. The current courthouse was built in 1910 and has since been replaced by a new brick and glass Justice Center just outside of downtown.

Remodeled back in 2007 as part of a statewide historical preservation effort post-9/11, the present Greek Revival Courthouse was envisioned in the summer of 1909 when the County Court concluded that the 30-year-old Victorian Courthouse built in 1877 was no longer safe. The 1910 courthouse, designed by premier architect Charles Page, no longer hears cases but retains a restored original courtroom and still holds some County offices as well as the Commissioner's Court chambers.
Before restoration 2005

The triple arched stone entryways lead to galleries on four sides and above these passageways are sets of four Ionic columns reaching to the upper floors. The large copper dome is topped by a figure of Justice and large clock faces are inset on each side of the dome. Cornices around the dome are finished in dentil stonework.

After in 2007
Originally, this structure had massive, carved marble pediments above each of the porticoes. The roofline around all four sides was encircled by a balustrade. Once spoken of as the "centerpiece" of downtown Georgetown, the facade was ordered changed in 1965 when a few of the baluster railings became loosened. The entire balustrade and the elaborate marble pediments were removed and eventually destroyed and were replaced by plain beige brickwork. In the 2007 restoration, the balustrades and pediments were beautifully restored to the original 1910 design.
Silvia and I checked out the restored courtroom with its south-facing Judge's bench (a tradition of post-Civil War, sorry TWONA, era courthouses as an allegory of eternal Southern loyalty), jury box, gallery and gem of a classic turn-of-the-century courtroom with a second floor mezzanine.

There were terrazzo floors throughout, made of bits of marble and granite, cemented and polished, the curved stairways with iron grille railings, the stately rotundas capped with a copper dome. We spoke with one of the employees who told us the well appointed yellow pine paneled interior, with fine oak trim, was restored to it's early 20th century glory by a California based company, one of the few that specializes in courtroom restorations.

Down the street, was an imposing fortress-like structure which was the former County Jail. The land for the jail site was David Love's wagon yard which was purchased through the donation of funds by prominent Williamson County residents. The first jail was one of Mr. Love’s wagons turned upside down over the prisoner with a guard perched on top.

The first 1848 structure was of poor design and many inmates were able to escape. Originally built as a wooden building in 1848 and replaced with the current limestone structure in 1888. It’s unique appearance is characterized by it’s designer as a French “Bastille” style construction.  It is now used as an office annex of the Williamson County and Cities Health District.

The historic Williamson County Courthouse was the scene of one of Texas’ most notable dismissals of a long running murder case from 1987. Michael Morton Wrongfully convicted in 1987 in Williamson County of the 1986 murder of his wife Christine Morton. He spent 25 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence identified under the direction of OJ attorney Barry Scheck’s Innocence Project which supported his claim of innocence and pointed to the crime being committed by another individual. Morton was released from prison on October 4, 2011.

Morton was arrested and charged with beating his wife to death in 1986. He was convicted in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison, but was exonerated after DNA evidence proved that he was innocent. Current Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley (who worked under Anderson when he was the DA) "tenaciously fought" DNA testing for six years before a judge finally ordered the tests. Morton was freed after DNA tests linked another man, Mark Norwood, to Christine Morton's murder. Norwood, a Bastrop, Texas dishwasher who lived in Austin in the mid-1980s, has been charged in the 1986 murder of Christine Morton. He’s also a suspect in the 1988 murder of Debra Baker in her Austin home. Both women were beaten to death in their beds. Little comfort to Baker's daughter Caitlin and son Jesse who, like others, feel their mother might still be alive if the police had followed the clues they had at the time, which may have led to the new suspect, Norwood, sooner.

The prosecuting attorney on the case was Ken Anderson the then Williamson County District Attorney. Because of his 100% conviction rate and strong anti-crime stance, Anderson has since then been elected as a State District Judge in Williamson County. During a review of the files, it was learned that there was a mountain of evidence from neighbors and others implicate someone else in the murder of Morton’s wife. Anderson knew, for instance, that Morton’s then 3 year old son Eric had said he saw a “monster”, not his father commit the murder, and had discussed a trial strategy to explain that what the little boy had seen was really his father dressed in a skin diving suit (wow…that’s a reach).

He also purposely failed to call the lead investigator to testify so the defense would not have access to investigative reports with the many other facts which would have eliminated Morton as a suspect in the case (a clear “Brady” violation). Since the disclosure of the DNA findings and the subsequent exoneration, Judge Anderson has been under investigation by the current Williamson County District Attorney and by the State of Texas for criminal contempt and misconduct in the case.

Unfortunately another case of over-zealous Texas prosecutors who determined the guilt of a defendant before they ever went to trial. One of the reasons Texas had the highest number of exonerations both death sentence and life term convictions. Nationwide there have been 1,085. About 37% are DNA cases and over 63% are cases involving review of evidence and recanting of witnesses identifications.

All this history gathering made us ( hungry so Scott and Silvia took us to a couple of their favorite places to eat. For breakfast we went to a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives restaurant  "Monument Cafe" by the Courthouse. The Monument menu was full of great breakfast items and I had the pancakes and Dianna had the Eggs Benedict on Special. Awesome service and taste, it belonged on Triple D. For dinner, we went to  Hardtails Bar and Grille. A big time hangout for the motorcycle crowd, I had the Slammer burger with green chile, avocado and pepperjack cheese. Dianna had the fish and chips. Make sure you check the list of  lingo you use to describe how you want to dress your meal. Very cool.

On our last outing, they took us to their favorite Mexican place, La Playa Mexican Cafe. I had the Fish Tacos and Dianna had the sour cream Enchiladas. Ok...this place had the best salsas and the most powerful Margaritas we have ever had. One Margie and you were having a hard time holding onto your fork.

Well....vacation over, we repacked our bags and returned home to home, dogs and work looking forward to our next adventure.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading about your adventure, and the history of the places. Too bad Sun City is in south (hot) Texas. Sounds like a great place to live.