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Texas Disabled School Fight Club Trial Begins

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By Caleb Groos on August 10, 2009 2:28 PM

Today trial begins for one of six former employees of a Texas school for the disabled where staff allegedly organized a fight club of developmentally disabled residents.

As discussed in March, cell phone videos captured 20 fights orchestrated at the Corpus Christi State School, dating back to 2007. What they show is disturbing -- developmentally challenged residents being cajoled, even kicked in order to incite fight club style battles for the amusement of some of the school's staff (now ex-staff).

As reported by the AP, the first trial in the fight club fiasco begins today. 25 year old Jesse Salazar, one of six charged, begins trial for causing injury to a disabled person.

Under Texas law, intentionally or knowingly causing injury to a disabled person, an elderly person or a child is either a first or third degree felony, depending on the gravity of the injury caused. This portion of Texas law defines disabled to mean a person "older than 14 years of age who by reason of age or physical or mental disease, defect, or injury is substantially unable to protect himself from harm or to provide food, shelter, or medical care for himself."

As noted by the AP, the prosecution's case against Salazar was likely bolstered on Friday when one of his co-defendants pleaded guilty to a lesser offense. Vincent Johnson, who was to stand trial with Salazar, pleaded guilty to negligently or recklessly injuring a disabled person. He received a 2 year suspended sentence and 5 years of probation in exchange for agreeing to testify against other defendants.

Six people were originally charged. One (D'Angelo Riley) pleaded guilty in July to 3 counts of injury to a disabled person. He awaits sentencing.

The trial of another, Timothy Dixon, has been put on hold while his defense appeals whether the phone videos should be allowed in as evidence. The videos figure to be a key part of the prosecution's case.

Stephanie Garza got an immunity agreement from the prosecutor in exchange for testimony against other defendants, but the judge rejected it. Her trial has been put off while prosecutors and her defense team try to get the Texas Court of Appeals to green light her immunity deal.

And finally, Guadalupe Delarosa Jr.'s trial has been postponed.

These trials come in the wake of wide calls for reform of Texas institutions for those with developmental challenges. In June, the AP reported that in a one year span, 269 were fired or suspended for either neglect or abuse of residents within the state's institutions for the mentally disabled.

Governor Rick Perry signed legislation in June in an attempt to address the problem-plagued state facilities.

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