Texas law does not protect murdered Austin student

Natalia Cox, 21, was murdered in March by a man who, according to investigators, threatened her in her apartment a week earlier.

AUSTIN, Texas – The parents of a 21-year-old student in Austin are fighting for change after their daughter, Natalia Cox, was murdered by a man investigators say she only met 10 days before.

Her parents, Lester and LaKeshia, are suing the apartment complex where Cox lived, claiming that she warned them of the threat she faced. Her parents believe her murder could have been prevented.

“She was such an inspiration,” said Lester Cox.

Cox, a star student, avid cheerleader and aspiring plastic surgeon, was due to graduate from Huston-Tillotson University in spring.

“She was the kind of balance that held everyone together,” said LaKeshia Cox.

Cox’s promising young life was cut short in March.

“We were obviously in shock and in disbelief,” said Lester Cox.

Police arrested Henry Watson, 24, for her murder, a man with whom investigators say she had two dates in the days leading up to her murder.

Natalia threatened, then killed a few days later

According to court documents, Watson showed up outside Cox’s apartment in northwest Austin on March 24, three days after they met.

Cox did not let him in and told investigators that on a FaceTime video call, Watson held a gun to the camera and told him to “open the door or he was going to open it.” according to an affidavit of arrest.

Police in Austin responded on the night of March 24, but KVUE Defenders learned that the case had not been taken to a detective for six days on March 30.

RELATED: Suspect Arrested in Connection with Murder of Huston-Tillotson Student Natalia Cox

In an email to KVUE Defenders, APD Detective Theresa Jester said Watson had never been arrested for the offense of terrorist threat resulting from the incident and that the case had not been referred to prosecutors. Officers at the scene provided Cox with a police report number.

Since the incident did not involve physical assault, the DPA did not code the incident as dating or domestic violence, meaning Cox did not receive a “pink brochure” – a compilation of helpful resources, phone numbers on restraining orders, court lawyers, women’s shelters, legal services and information for victims of domestic violence, Jester wrote in the email.

Then, before dawn on March 31, seven days after Watson threatened Cox, APD responded to several 911 calls regarding shots fired at the Colonial Grand at Canyon Pointe apartment complex.

They found Cox dead inside.

Read the full Natalia Cox murder affidavit here.

“It wasn’t necessarily domestic violence that happened over a long period of time. It happened really quickly, ”said LaKeshia Cox.

Once Watson was in custody, detectives linked him to another Austin murder of 23-year-old Garrett Gamond-Hill. Court records show this happened on March 25, around 13 hours after he showed up at Cox’s apartment and threatened her.

“The cartridges fired located at both the scene of the murder of Garrett and Natalia correspond to the caliber, make and model,” APD Det. Jason Ayers wrote in an arrest affidavit.

Read Garrett Gamond-Hill’s murder affidavit here.

In July, Watson was declared unfit to stand trial for Cox’s murder. A judge has ordered that he undergo up to 120 days of inpatient treatment at a mental health facility or residential care facility for further evaluation, according to court documents. Jail records show he is still being held at the Travis County Correctional Complex.

His family sues the owners of the apartment

Cox’s family are now suing the company that owns Colonial Grand in Canyon Pointe, alleging that Cox and his roommate asked to move out following Watson’s threat.

The lawsuit claims they were told to pay new filing fees, administrative fees, a new security deposit and two months rent – but they couldn’t afford it. The lawsuit also claims that the management of the complex was negligent in not letting them move without penalties.

“She said, ‘I have to get out of my lease. I am not safe here. He knows where I live. He threatened my life. I have to move urgently, ”said Bianca Moroles, who represents the Cox family. “They did not take this threat seriously and it ultimately resulted in his tragic death.”

RELATED: Family of Murdered Student at Home sues apartment complex for failing to help them move out

KVUE Defenders contacted Colonial Grand at Canyon Pointe. An employee at the apartment referred us to lawyers at the company, who had not responded at the time of this article’s publication.

Read the lawsuit against the apartment complex here.

In a response filed to the lawsuit, the company denied the allegations.

What Texas Law Says About the Incident

KVUE advocates found state law to exist, Section 92.016 of the Texas Property Code, which allows victims of domestic violence to break a lease without penalty by presenting documents such as an emergency protection order.

While Cox had a police report number, which Moroles said was shared with the management of the apartment complex, she did not have an emergency protection order.

In the four working days that Cox had between Watson’s alleged threat and then murder, it would have been “extremely difficult” to get the judge-approved emergency protection order at a time when the justice system was under pressure. already late due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a prosecutor familiar with the process.

“Unfortunately, the system just wasn’t working fully for her,” said State Representative Vikki Goodwin, who represents Northwest Austin.

Goodwin said Cox’s situation highlights the need for tougher law to protect victims and said Texas should allow extreme risk protection orders.

“If someone comes to your door and threatens you with a gun, you can go to a judge and ask them to say that the gun needs to be taken away from that person who has been a threat,” he said. representing Goodwin. “I think we can do better when there is a situation where someone’s life is in imminent danger.”

Texas state lawmakers will not meet for another regular legislative session until early 2023.

Domestic violence advocacy group, The SAFETY Alliance, hopes Cox’s murder can spark a change much sooner.

“I think if the apartment complex had known they could contact SAFE, they probably would have taken very different steps,” said Dr. Jacqueline Smith-Francis, SAFE corporate philanthropy specialist. “Can we come to a point in our society… where we trust people who say they are being abused and we believe them, right? And then we’ve put in place systems and steps through which we can actually support them, even though we don’t have the legal documentation without quotes.

Remember Natalia and seek strength

In May, Cox’s alma mater honored the late former student, presenting her family with an honorary degree.

“We knew how special she was,” said Lester Cox.

RELATED: Huston-Tillotson University Remembers Elder Killed in Austin Apartment Shooting

Cox’s teacher, Amanda Masino, enrolled her in five different classes during her time at Huston-Tillotson.

“She’s just one of those people who wants to contribute, and she wanted to make the world a better place,” Masino said. “She’s found so many ways to do it through her classes, her extracurricular activities, through the work she’s done off campus.”

After his death, Masino said his friends and classmates remembered how caring, caring and kind Cox was – described as the “go-to friend” who was “incredibly generous”.

“I think a lot more could have been done should have been done to remedy his situation. She had a warning. You know it doesn’t completely come out of nowhere, ”Masino said.

Lester and LaKeshia are now trying to find a new way to navigate life without their bright light, all while remembering Cox’s impact.

“You see power as a force. Yes, power is strength, but it is the strength of love and the strength to endure and fight for what you believe in, and so that is for me – my baby was strength LaKeshia Cox said.

They hope the force will lead to a safer Texas.

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