AUSTIN (KXAN) – Raul Meza Jr. has been an infamous, headline-grabbing name for years in Central Texas, after he pleaded guilty to the 1982 murder of 8-year-old Kendra Page. Meza resurfaced in May when he was charged with two more murders and described by one local official as a “serial killer.”
Compared to those high-profile murder cases, relatively little attention was paid to a 2005 civil rights lawsuit Meza filed against state prison and parole officials. But legal experts say that civil case has had a lasting impact on the system.
Meza, now 62, sued Texas Department of Criminal Justice and TDCJ’s parole division officials, roughly three years after his mandatory 2002 release from prison. In 2002, Meza was placed under mandatory supervision and housed in the Travis County Jail in Del Valle. In his 2005 suit, Meza argued his civil rights were trampled by overly restrictive supervision rules and sex offender conditions imposed on him, even though he was not convicted of a sex offense.
At the time of his 1982 murder case, Meza admitted to sexually assaulting Page, but he was not convicted of that crime. In his 2005 lawsuit, Meza argued he was not afforded due process when a parole panel imposed sex offender conditions – called “special condition X” – on him without a hearing. Meza was represented by attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which did not return a request for an interview or comment.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel sided in favor of Meza in March 2009, finding procedural protections afforded to him were “insufficient,” according to findings of fact and conclusions of law.
“The court declares that the state failed to afford Meza ‘a hearing meeting the requirements of due process’ when it imposed sex-offender conditions on his parole,” Yeakel concluded. The case was appealed up to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided, in part, with Meza.
Special condition X
Yeakel’s ruling stated Meza was not initially provided with enough opportunity to challenge being placed on sex offender restrictions.
That challenge now includes a so-called “Coleman hearing,” which allows a person to contest sex offender conditions, if they weren’t convicted of a sexual offense.
Meza said his conditions were so restrictive he could not secure employment, which could have allowed him to prove he could earn a sufficient income to move out of the jail.
Special condition X required Meza to participate in a sex offender treatment program, be evaluated for sex offender counseling, submit to lie-detector tests, avoid child-safety zones, wear an electronic monitoring device and comply with other sex-offender conditions, according to court records.
State witnesses could identify only one other parolee in the state with comparable conditions to Meza’s, according to the findings of fact.
“Theoretically, Meza’s conditions do not prevent him from living in the community, attending church, visiting family, or obtaining employment, but practically, his conditions prohibited him from leaving TCCC, a jail,” Yeakel wrote. “Few other parolees have conditions of release as restrictive as Meza’s.”
Gary Cohen, an Austin attorney who later represented Meza in a Coleman hearing, said Meza’s lawsuit forced the parole board to change how it handled this type of case going forward.
“It did result in some progress in terms of specificity, in terms of what process is due to an offender, and a higher level of compliance,” said Cohen, a parole attorney.
While Meza’s attorneys fought to protect his civil rights, others people, like Vivian Lewis, strongly opposed his release for any reason.
Lewis is a registered sex offender treatment provider and licensed clinical social worker. She was tasked in the early 2000s with assessing and evaluating Meza’s danger to society for the parole board, she told KXAN. For a short period, Meza was also in a sex offender treatment group she counseled.
Meza was someone with “false charm,” she said. He was talkative, engaging and explicitly detailed how he killed Page and threw her in a dumpster like “trash,” Lewis said.
Lewis recalled sensing Meza was trying to con her and create a “false relationship.”
“That is when I began to realize that I was in the, that I was dealing with a psychopath. That registered very heavily with me because at that point in my life I didn’t know many psychopaths,” Lewis said. “I’m not even sure I knew the difference in a psychopath, but he certainly gave me an education.”
She said the time Meza described killing Page was the iciest and most blood curdling interview she had heard.
“He seemed to find great joy in hurting this little girl, and my recommendations were to not release him,” Lewis said. “I thought he was a danger to the community.”
Super Intensive Supervision Program
The conditions placed on Meza by parole officials were extensive. He was barred from going within 500 feet of places children commonly gather, such as schools, playgrounds, pools or arcades. He couldn’t stay with his own mother because she occasionally cared for children, court records showed.
In addition to the sex offender conditions, Meza was put on the Super Intensive Supervision Program, or SISP. The SISP condition initially required Meza to register as a sex offender, though that requirement was dropped at some point between 2003 and 2005, according to Yeakel’s findings of fact.
SISP is the highest classification of individuals under supervision, said Allen Place, an attorney and former state representative from Coryell County who authored legislation creating the SISP.
“The SISP program is designed for individuals that are convicted of aggravated or violent type offenses,” Place said. “An inherent function of SISP – is that the person under supervision would report more often. For example, maybe weekly, as opposed to monthly.”
The 1990s were a time of significant change for the Texas penal code, Place told KXAN. There was a “tremendous build up” in the number of prison beds in the state from the beginning of the 1980s to the end of the 90s, he said. With that build up in prison population, there was a desire to reform the conclusion of prison terms and the parole system.
On top of SISP, Meza was also placed on “condition .99” which was a “free text” condition that the parole panel could use to “impose any type of condition on a parolee,” according to court records.
Meza was given a “parole-officer-supervision condition” that was unique in the Travis County Correctional Complex where he was confined for years after his release from prison.
At the time of Yeakel’s decision, Meza’s sentence was scheduled to end in January 2017. After he was released, police believe Meza killed again.
New murder charges
In May, Meza faced charges in two more killings, including the murder of Gloria Lofton, 65, in 2019.
He is also accused of killing 80-year-old Jesse Fraga, of Pflugerville, in May. Fraga had been a close friend who advocated for Meza and allowed the convicted killer to live in his home. Austin police are investigating whether Meza could be linked to more killings.
Cohen said he understands the debate – with the ability to consider Meza’s recent charges and history in hindsight – over whether the parole board was correct in being so restrictive. Cohen said he didn’t agree with the way the parole board handled Meza’s sex offender conditions, and they had “plenty of tools to keep him on the proverbial short leash.”
Perhaps, if the system had afforded Meza more opportunities, such as rehabilitative programs, things could have turned out differently, he said.
The parole system “didn’t want him to be anywhere but back in prison, and they did everything they could through the means of supervision, to thwart anything that he could do for himself,” Cohen said. “Whether that would have resulted in a different Raul Meza today? Again, I don’t think anyone in the world could answer that question.”