AUSTIN, Texas – A federal judge this week will consider a lawsuit against state officials filed by a man convicted of killing an 8-year-old girl who says he's being illegally deprived of his chance to re-enter the community.
After Raul Meza qualified for release from prison under the state's mandatory supervision law in 1993, state officials worked to find him a place to live despite protests that ran him out of several Texas cities.
A year later, a missed curfew violation sent Meza, who killed and sexually assaulted 8-year-old Kendra Page in Austin in 1982, back to prison. Meza, 48, is again out of prison on mandatory supervision release — which is similar to parole — but state officials continue to confine him at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle.
At issue is the limits on Meza's freedom under the mandatory supervision law in effect when he was convicted in 1982. Under that law, which has since changed, offenders are to be released from incarceration when their accrued good-behavior time credits and the time they have served equals the length of their sentence.
Meza's lawyers with the Texas Civil Rights Project say the parolelike conditions he is subject to are different from those of inmates released under similar circumstances and charged with similar crimes. They also say the conditions were imposed without allowing Meza a chance to rebut their necessity.
The trial at the Austin federal courthouse is expected to conclude Wednesday, but U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel is not expected to rule immediately.
Page's sister, Tracy Page, 41, of Hutto, says she will be in court and continue her family's effort to keep Meza locked up as long as possible. Like her mother and siblings, Tracy Page says she wants Meza behind bars until 2016, when his 30-year murder sentence and a later four-year sentence for possessing a weapon in prison have expired.
Meza is housed at a minimum security part of the county jail where state parolees live in a halfway house environment. When he arrived in 2002, one of his "conditions of mandatory supervision" was that he would remain at the correctional complex for 180 days as "temporary housing" until he could secure work and a place to live.
His lawyers say that other conditions imposed on his release by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and carried out by Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials have effectively eliminated any chance of getting a job.
In court filings, Meza has said he has had only a few hours a week to participate in a parolee job search program. He also said parole officials take so long to approve potential job prospects that they're gone when he finally applies.
"He feels terrible about the crime he committed, but this is about the process," Scott Medlock, one of Meza's lawyers, told the Austin American-Statesman for its Sunday online editions. "Parole is discretionary, but mandatory supervision is not. They must release him."
Lawyers with the Texas attorney general's office say the conditions imposed on Meza are lawful and legitimate given his history.
"There is a rational reason for imposing restrictive conditions of supervision on a repeat offender who violently murdered a child," Assistant Attorney General Bruce Garcia wrote in a pretrial motion on behalf of the parole board.