Man accused of killing Austin defense attorney at his home

Justin Twyne
Justin Twyne (Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Authorities have made an arrest in the murder of Austin defense attorney James Short. Justin Twyne, 24, has been charged with first degree murder.

Short, 74, was found dead last week inside a bathroom in his Rockwood Circle home, in southwest Travis County, after a 911 call reported a deceased man at 11:48 a.m. on April 7. According to a police affidavit, detectives at the scene believed the death was a homicide after finding a stab wound that appeared to be caused by a knife.

Family members, who last saw Short the day before, had come to Short’s house after they weren’t able to reach him on the phone, which they said was unusual. The family told police Short lived alone. Detectives found blood and a knife on the bed in the master bedroom — on the knife, there was a fingerprint matching Twyne’s, according to an arrest affidavit. They also found, according to official documents, a backpack with several items inside with Twyne’s name on them, including his photo ID.

A receipt in Short’s pocket showed a purchase was made at a Walmart on April 6 at 6:16 p.m. Surveillance video from Walmart showed a man matching Twyne’s description walking with Short, with flowers and plants in the shopping cart. They left the store together in the attorney’s Chevrolet Suburban, which has not been located.

The day after Short’s body was found, authorities released photographs of a person of interest along with Short’s SUV. At around 2 p.m. on April 7, Short’s cell phone was found by the road near the intersection of Ben White Boulevard and Manchaca Road. Several text messages exchanged between Short and Twyne were found on the phone, where the two messaged about meeting at Short’s house. Police say Short sent Twyne his address and directions to find his house, located down a dirt road. There were no text messages between the two after April 6.

On April 7, Twyne was found in a New Orleans hotel by members of the U.S. Marshal’s Task Force and was arrested on an unrelated escape warrant. A spokeswoman with the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office says their warrant was obtained on September 28, 2016. The warrant shows Twyne is charged with escape by the Georgia Department of Corrections after he failed to return to a work release program. He was in that program for a charge of financial transaction card fraud.

For Short’s murder investigation, a search warrant issued for Twyne’s hotel room — registered in his own name — revealed credit cards belonging to Short inside the room. Twyne, whose address is registered as in Bunkie, Louisiana, refused to speak with deputies in New Orleans.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, authorities said they’re still working on a determining a motive for the killing. When asked how the two men knew each other, the spokesperson said they had met before and they were friends.

His criminal history includes arrests for giving a false name, address or birthday to law enforcement, willful obstruction of law enforcement officers, driving without a valid license, willfully resist, obstruct or oppose law enforcement, obstruction of an officer, probation violations, financial card fraud, family violence — battery, criminal trespass, simple battery and escape.

His bond has been set at $500,000 with the conditions of GPS monitoring and in-jail supervision.

In his career, friends say Short was known for working with defendants who may not have been able to pay him. Instead, they would barter: Short would offer legal services while his clients would give him goods or do yard work.

“That’s who he was, a very gentle and kind person, always helping other people,” close friend Samantha Peterman said.

If anyone comes across Short’s missing Suburban, they should call 911. The vehicle has a Texas License Plate #DRW-3438.

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