Dec. 22–Frances A. Hall is incarcerated in a state prison for the murder of her trucking magnate husband, killed in a jealous rage in 2013.
The consequences of Bill Hall Jr.’s death reverberate more than four years later.
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Now, Bexar County Probate Judge Tom Rickhoff must decide whether Frances, 54, is entitled to receive her late husband’s half of their community property or if it should be split between their two children, Justin, 30, and Dominique, 34.
Lawyers for Justin were in Rickhoff’s court Thursday asking for a ruling declaring Justin and Dominique the beneficiaries of a constructive trust, which would give each of them a half interest in their late father’s portion of the community estate.
Mark Braswell, a lawyer for Justin, said a person who causes someone’s death should not then benefit financially from their criminal act.
“I don’t think that she should benefit from her willful or wrongful act,” Braswell told Rickhoff. The judge said he would decide the issue by the end of the day Friday.
Frances opposes Justin’s request, and she has her daughter’s support even though Dominique stands to benefit if Rickhoff grants the request.
Attorney Keith Miller, who represents Frances, said his client was not convicted of intentionally murdering her husband, a necessary requirement for imposing a constructive trust.
“Frances Hall was acting under the influence of sudden passion without the mental ability for cool reflection about what she was doing,” Miller said in court.
Bill Hall Jr. died on Oct. 10, 2013, after Frances knocked the motorcycle he was riding off South Loop 1604 with her Cadillac Escalade. Prosecutors said she wanted to kill her husband’s longtime lover Bonnie Contreras — who was driving an SUV on the same stretch of highway that day — for ruining their marriage, but ended up killing her husband instead. Bill Hall Jr. was 50.
A Bexar County District Court jury in September 2016 handed the lightest possible sentence to Frances Hall, agreeing with her lawyers that she acted out of “sudden passion” that fateful day. She is serving a two-year sentence at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Dr. Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville, about 40 miles west of Waco. Her projected release date is Sept. 7.
Justin initially agreed with his sister Dominique that their father’s death was accidental and that their mother should be entitled to all of the benefits of Bill’s half of the community estate.
Braswell said at the time Justin made that declaration he was not receiving the advice of independent legal counsel. Braswell said Justin was represented by attorney Edward Lavin, who also was representing Frances, Dominique and the estate. Lavin had a conflict of interest that Justin was never asked to waive, Braswell said.
Frances Hall and Justin Hall are each suing Lavin for legal malpractice.
More than three years ago, Rickhoff awarded proceeds from multiple life insurance policies on Bill’s life to Frances after Justin relinquished any rights to the money.
Before the attorneys even presented any arguments, Rickhoff entered the courtroom and told them, “I wouldn’t have given her the money in the first place if the kids hadn’t signed off on it.”
“This whole family is in a row boat,” Rickhoff later said. “One’s rowing to the left. One’s rowing forward. One’s rowing backward, and that’s where this family is going. They should all be rowing in the same direction for a while.”
Bill and Frances’ community estate was valued at $15.5 million in a 2014 court filing in the probate case. The bulk of the estate was the trucking businesses, worth a combined $13.2 million. At one time, the businesses had a fleet of more than 100 trucks.
Bill’s share, which was more than $7.5 million, has dissipated by about $6 million, Braswell said after the hearing, citing a valuation presented to the court earlier this year.
Justin has accused his sister, the estate’s independent administrator, of running the businesses into the ground and improperly transferring trucks, trailers and equipment belonging to Bill Hall Jr. Trucking to her own trucking businesses and another operated by her boyfriend. Two of Bill Hall Jr.’s trucking companies filed for bankruptcy, one in November and the other in January.
“I just want what’s rightfully mine,” Justin said after the hearing, adding he isn’t seeking a portion of his mother’s house.
In March, Rickhoff had the Halls enter into a “family settlement agreement for the preservation of the estate,” which Braswell said prevents the transfer of any assets belonging to the estate. The judge also appointed a forensic accountant to track estate assets, but she has not yet reported her findings.
In bankruptcy court in San Antonio this month, the U.S. Trustee, part of the Justice Department, filed papers seeking to toss the bankruptcy of Bill Hall Jr. Trucking GP LLC because the company has been in Chapter 11 since Jan. 25 and has yet to file a reorganization plan. The company, which had a previous bankruptcy case dismissed, also failed to file a monthly operating report that was due Nov. 20. The company hasn’t responded to the U.S. Trustee’s motion.
Bill Hall Jr. Trucking Ltd. filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in November 2016. The case was converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation in March. Nothing has been filed in the case since August.
Patrick Danner is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of his stories here. — email@example.com — @AlamoPD
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