Campus Murder, Lawsuit Spur Calls for School Choice in Texas

Published May 1, 2006

Most of the arguments made for allowing parents to send their children to the schools of their own choosing focus on underperforming schools and missed opportunities for a bright future. School choice is seldom discussed in literal life-or-death terms.

That changed on March 28, 2003, in Austin, Texas. That’s when 16-year-old Marcus McTear chased his former girlfriend, 15-year-old Ortralla Mosley, through the halls of Reagan High School and stabbed her five times with an eight-inch kitchen knife. As horrified students watched, Mosley died in a teacher’s arms.

It wasn’t McTear’s first act of violence toward a girlfriend. That’s why Mosley’s mother, Carolyn, and Rae Ann Spence, one of McTear’s ex-girlfriends, filed a $23 million federal lawsuit against the Austin Independent School District (AISD) in November 2003, claiming that because officials already knew about McTear’s violent tendencies toward female students, the district was violating a sex-discrimination law in the U.S. Education Code.

In February 2006, attorneys negotiated a settlement for $200,000. The district did not admit to any wrongdoing, but AISD attorney Kevin Cole said the settlement was “an attempt to bring some closure to a very painful and sorrowful occurrence for all involved.”

Meanwhile, McTear was tried as a minor in June 2003 for Mosley’s murder, convicted, and sentenced to a juvenile detention center. He could have been eligible for parole at 21. But in January 2006, the judge who presided over his trial ordered him transferred to an adult prison to serve the remainder of his sentence after officials at the juvenile detention center reported he has been overly controlling of three girlfriends over the past three years–even after counseling.

Schools Hiding Problems

In 2002, both McTear and Spence were suspended after a violent altercation on campus. McTear returned to school after his suspension. Spence’s mother, however, moved her family across town to get away from him.

Had McTear been transferred to another school for his acts of violence, Mosley’s murder may well have been avoided, said Dr. Sterling Lands, a pastor and community activist in the Reagan High neighborhood.

In an interview, Mosley’s mother said she had received no communication from the school and was not aware of McTear’s violent tendencies. In hindsight, while Mosley and her daughter were very close, she said she would have made a greater effort to really get to know her daughter’s friends. Now, she encourages parents to be more involved at the school.

Lands said schools must better communicate to parents any known problems, and “the ability to move a child should rest totally with the parent and not with the system,” he said. “Right now, the public school system prevents that.”

Restraining Offenders

AISD spokeswoman Kathy Anthony declined comment on the Mosley case, citing confidentiality, but said it was the only student murder ever committed on campus in the district. According to the district’s Web site, the AISD Police Department–which serves 125 school facilities in a 230-mile radius–receives about 20,000 service calls annually.

But Marc A. Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said Mosley’s murder could have been prevented had the school had an open transfer policy including school choice.

“This murder was a travesty, along with many other shocking incidents of school violence,” Levin said, “and suggests that the AISD and many other government schools may not be providing sufficient protection to their students.”

Connie Sadowski ([email protected]) is director of the Education Options Resource Center at the Austin CEO Foundation.

For more information …

A report conducted by the Austin Independent School District’s Reagan High School Safety Task Force is available online at

“Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs: What Is, What Should Be,” a policy brief by Marc Levin, is available online at

For more information on preventing juvenile crimes, visit the U.S. Department of Justice Web site at

Crime and safety statistics for schools are offered in “Indicators of Crime and Safety: 2005,” National Center for Education Statistics,