'Testify,' a true-crime podcast for the Borderland
I’ve got a new podcast fixation — and this one is produced a little closer to home.
It’s called “Testify,” a true-crime podcast based in El Paso. It is produced and hosted by former skip tracer, bail bondsman and bounty hunter Charlie Moreno, as well as former KTSM Digital Content Manager Andra Litton. Litton’s background in investigative journalism and Moreno’s in the criminal justice system provide the hosts with an expertise that helps bring decades-old court documents to life. They are also able to dig up audio and interview those involved in the case in ways that showcase their reporting chops.
The first few episodes examine the 1988 murder of James N. Byers, a gay man who was shot, stabbed and dismembered. The accountant’s body was found in the trunk of his car in the parking lot of the Camelot Town Homes on N. Stanton, where he lived. Brian Vincent Russell, a student at the University of Texas at El Paso, was later convicted of the murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison.
It was 1988, and Russell’s attorney put forth what was known as the “gay panic defense.” Russell claimed he and Byers had been drinking in Byers’ home, Byers made a sexual advance and Russell killed him. Litton and Moreno do a fantastic job of explaining this in the historical context of the HIV epidemic — the so-called “gay plague” — and the attempt to put the victim’s “lifestyle” on trial.
In the “Testify” episodes, the hosts try to hew closely to the facts of the case. In the second episode, called “Closing Argument,” the hosts discuss the case, the closing arguments presented to the jury, and the defense strategy in a less-formal, conversational atmosphere. Episode three, “Sidebar,” gives the hosts an opportunity to discuss the case with local and national organizations “that provide victim services, advocacy, community outreach and education,” according to the "Testify" website. (For the Byers case, “Sidebar” featured Dr. Brenda Risch from the Borderland Rainbow Center.)
Another “Sidebar” episode looks at the work done by CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), who work with abused and neglected children in the judicial system.
I suspect — though I haven’t independently confirmed it — that, as the podcast continues, they will continue to provide in-depth looks at other cases following this same format.
"Testify," which launched on Oct. 22, is available through most podcast apps, including Apple, Google, Radio Public and TuneIn. (I understand it’s expected to be available on Spotify soon. Listeners can also visit the Facebook page, facebook.com/testifypodcast.
If you are looking for a new podcast — and if, like me, you can’t get enough of the true-crime genre — I hope you’ll spend a little time in the coming weeks to check out “Testify.”
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 11/08/18