Main Producer: Ruth Chenetz | Producer: Anthony Venditti
And if someone wants you dead … but you live to say it?
"48 Hours" explores the terrifying moments when an assailant started firing at Judge Julie Kocurek in front of her house, in front of her son, and how she found the strength to survive. She explains how the attempted murder has changed not only for her and her family, but also for the safety of all Texas judges.
Judge Julie Kocurek | Travis County Criminal District Court: We will never be the same. … Driving the night will never be the same again. … and we all think that it should never have happened.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I was the first female district judge to sit on a criminal court … in Travis County. Governor Bush appointed me in 1999. … I think the fact that I'm expecting twins has drawn a lot of attention to the whole process.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I've treated people … in my audience room … with respect, kindness and patience. But shut when I needed to be.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I knew that there was a potential threat – because of the high-risk people I see every day. … the decisions I make every day. Someone is not going – will leave happy.
NOV. 6 2015
Judge Julie Kocurek: It was a Friday. I had family and we will go to the football game, you know, in Texas on Friday night. … Will and I and my sister drove, it was like any other night.
Will Kocurek | Judge Kocurek's son: We always went to football games every Friday night.
Will KocurekMy cousin and aunt had come to town, so I was glad to see them and have a good night.
Judge Julie KocurekIt was raining and after half-time we decided to go home. … Will had his learner's license, so he was driving.
Will Kocurek: My mother was beside me in the passenger seat. My aunt and cousin were at the back.
Judge Julie KocurekSo we went to the security door and entered our driveway.
Will Kocurek: And while we were coming into the driveway, I saw a bag of leaves blocking the door.
Judge Julie Kocurek: And we – thought it was strange. I thought it was a joke. And so we – Will got out of the car.
Will Kocurek: Exited, picked up, then started down with the street. … I saw someone start walking down the street. And I noticed that he was dressed in black and I thought it was a little weird. … and all of a sudden, he just started running right on me. And then, I turned around and ran to the side of my mother's car.
Will Kocurek: And then he took out a gun and started firing. … He fired four times through … the driver's side window.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I've come down as far as possible in the seat. And I protected my head with my arm and my hand. I remember thinking, "I'm going to die in front of my own son."
911 OPERATOR: Travis County 911
WILL KOCUREK: Hey! Help me! Help me! Help me! We just got shot!
OPERATOR 911: Is someone injured?
WILL KOCUREK: My mother is … please, hurry up, this guy has rushed to the car and shot my mother.
Det. Derek Israel | Austin P.D. (Retired): I was called by one of the homicide unit supervisors who told me that there had been a shootout – and that the victim was … the judge District Court Judge Julie Kocurek.
Det. Derek Israel: When you are a judge, you potentially have a lot of enemies. … She had sent many people to prison. The [are] potentially hundreds – if not thousands – of individuals who might resent him.
Judge Julie Kocurek: We did not know who did that. … and … it just shows you that you never know who's going to be.
A BRUTAL ATTACK
Will Kocurek: Open the door, it was almost open a Christmas present … Because when I opened it and saw that she was alive, I was really surprised.
Judge Julie Kocurek: And I said, "I'm fine," because when he opened the door, he was screaming.
WILL KOCUREK | 911 AUDIO [crying] It's good mom, it's good, it's good.
Will Kocurek: And she told me that she was fine and that it was a little shocking at first. And then when she looked up and saw blood everywhere, I knew she was not OK.
Judge Julie Kocurek: And I assured him that I was aware, but I was afraid for us to stay near this car. I wanted to get away from this car so that they could not come back and shoot us all. So, Will, my sister and my nephew got out of the car and took me to the porch. … and my sister then told me that I was lying on the porch: "You are leaving this work. "
Judge Julie Kocurek: Pain is like nothing I have ever felt before. It was atrocious. And I had a bullet in the right neck – and in my shoulder, and I knew I could not – I could not move.
Will Kocurek: And once we reached the porch … I really thought she was going to die so I just said goodbye to her.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I mean – Will m said goodbye. He – I told him that I loved him. … and we just waited for the police to come. It seemed like an eternity.
Will Kocurek: Once I heard the sirens arrive, I ran into the street.
COP: Where is he, where did he go?
WILL KOCUREK: He came down this way! He is dressed in black!
Will Kocurek: I thought maybe we could have the guy who did it – and then, I would not have to spend so many years worrying about who it was if she died or if she did not die.
Judge Julie KocurekPolice arrived and told a police officer that I was a judge and I felt that it was related to my work. … I knew that if I could remember and if I did, I had to remember every second of what was happening. And once the shots were over, I turned to look behind me and I could see a car spinning at full speed. And it was a gray sedan. I wanted anyone who did this to be apprehended.
Det. Derek Israel: I go to the place where his house is and where the shooting took place. … By the time I arrived at the scene … the judge had been transported to the hospital. … The judge's car is in his driveway. One of the windows is shot down. … there is a lot of blood in it. And … we ended up finding four rounds corresponding, essentially to the information gathered by the witnesses, both the witnesses who were in the car and the neighbors who heard the shots. had been about four to five shots.
Dr. Patrick Combs is a craniofacial surgeon at Seton Medical Center in Austin.
Dr. Patrick Combs: Judge Kocurek had – many fragments of firearms. … She had many injuries to her left shoulder, face, scalp, right forearm, left hand and left forearm. But she was awake and stable.
The judge's husband, Kelly, and Will's twin sister, Mary Frances, rushed to the hospital. Will arrived later, after answering questions from the police about the shooting.
Will Kocurek: When I entered the hospital, I still had his blood on me. … and my sister came to me and she was really upset. And my dad was inside and I had not seen him since that happened.
Patrick Combs: The bullet wounds with Judge Kocurek were a large number of small injuries, some larger ones. All contained this liquid, copper, a metallic material. … I had never seen anything like it before.
Det. Derek Israel: I received a call from his doctor, a very desperate call. And her doctor was like, "Why the hell was she killed?" … I've described this particular bullet … And it was a kind of unique ammunition specifically designed to be breakable, which means that it comes off – you know, when … she strikes the flesh, she undoes.
The ball is supposed to cause the maximum damage. While four bullets were fired, the judge had hundreds of fragments and gunshot wounds. Between the surgeries to remove the fragments, Judge Kocurek spoke to the police. As a person who has heard all types of criminal cases, she knew that any clue – anything she could remember – could be important.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I told the police that I had two phone calls the day before the day I was injured. And it was strange. … And … the week before … It was Halloween weekend … And I noticed this man wearing pretty street clothes jogging and looking at me while I was riding my decorations. ; Halloween. … and I motioned to him and smiled. And he just looked at me. It was strange, but you know, it does not mean that someone will try to kill you.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht | Texas Supreme Court:. I was just horrified.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: Judge Kocurek was not affected because it is Julie. She was shot because she was doing her job. And it is a real threat to the rule of law and judicial work. … I'll tell you – when you leave the audience late at night and walk in a dark park, you look over your shoulder differently from what you were before Julie was shot. Because it could happen to me.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I remember Sunday night, friends came to see me and I felt very hot. … I did not feel well.
Dr. Patrick Combs: Judge Kocurek became seriously ill on the second day of her hospitalization. She developed a high number of white blood cells, marker of infection, as well as a high fever. And we knew we had to take her to the operating room to be able to explore the wounds.
Dr. Patrick Combs: In the operating room, it became apparent very quickly that she had a very serious infection … we knew that there was – a significant chance that she could die. … and it would not have been prudent to wake her up and let her breathe on her own. So she was in a medically-induced coma and had a tube that was breathing for her.
Will Kocurek: I went there every day to see her, so I knew that she was not – that was – I mean, you can say that she's not going well looking at her most of the time. I tried not to think about his eventual death during this time because I thought that if we had already survived the main event, then we could go through the infection.
Dr. Patrick CombsAfter the first two operations, she became less sick. And we were able to wake her up and get her out of this medically-induced coma and she was able to breathe on her own.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I woke up and felt like I was in the depths of the Earth. I have never felt so much psychological pain. … my husband came in. I said, "How am I going out of this hole? I'm in a hole and I do not know how to get out." And he said, "Take one day at a time … we will overcome that." … I was so scared that I could not find my life again. I was worried about my children.
Will Kocurek: I would dream about it every night. I could not sleep I did not want to go out at night. I really stopped spending time with my friends for a while after that.
Judge Julie Kocurek: The guilt I felt for choosing a profession that put my son and my family in danger … There were times when I wanted to die. I felt like damaged property and that my family would be much better without me. They would be safer. … because we did not know … if it was going to continue to be a threat. I mean, it would be difficult to live your life with someone who does not know who was trying to kill you.
A MISSED WARNING
Judge Julie Kocurek: The stay at the hospital … was horrible. … I had open wounds all over my arm and my face.
Dr. Patrick Combs: The judge's left index finger was badly injured. She had an infection that involved the bone … and it became obvious that … she would have a much more functional hand – if we amputated that finger.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I just remembered being out of surgery someday, and they said, "We took your finger off you." … and there are some deformities that I will live with the rest of my life, and I'm just happy to have an arm and a limb and to be able to use my hand.
Dr. Patrick Combs: Judge Kocurek was, was pretty remarkable. And his family was also remarkable. And I know it was an incredibly difficult time for her. She thought a little about herself. But I think she was thinking more about the well-being of her son and what his son had been through. She mentioned it several times during hospitalization.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I asked … the safety of my family. If I could go back to work and feel that my family was going to be safe.
Det. Derek Israel: In this particular case … it is a public official, she is well known, her name is in the newspaper all the time. She is also a woman, a mother, a member of the community. Just because she's a judge, you can not ignore the fact that – it could just be an ordinary motivation. It could be a husband trying to get rid of a woman. … so these questions had to be asked. At the hospital, her husband agreed to sit down with me. And I told him about all these things. … I quickly understood – this is not – where it is.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I know that my probation officers and attorneys were combing records when I was in the hospital.
Det. Derek Israel: I was inundated with people who gave us all kinds of names … I received a call from an investigator from the Travis County Attorney's Office, who told me that a few weeks before, they had received a … advice – saying that one person, named Chimene Onyeri, was planning to shoot a judge in Travis County. … After the shooting, an additional tip was received from the same informant. … now she says that not only did he say that he was going to do it, but now he was boasting of having done it. … We were very focused on Chimene Onyeri.
Judge Julie Kocurek: He was from Houston, a clean, handsome kid. … Mr. Onyeri came to me with a motion to revoke probation.
Det. Derek Israel: This is a 28 year old man who has spent a lot of time on his criminal activities.
It was one of those criminal activities that led Onyeri to appear in the Kocurek judge's hearing room in 2012. It was about fake credit cards. Onyeri was put on probation. He came back to her in 2015 to cancel his probation because of new fraud charges. The judge kept him on probation pending his trial.
Judge Julie Kocurek: It was a very very ordinary case.
Or then the judge thought. She will later learn that Onyeri was much more than an ordinary criminal. He was running a complex financial criminal enterprise and he wanted to make sure that the judge would not close it.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I had discovered … that Mr. Onyeri's girlfriend … knew that he was planning to kill me and had called the district attorney's office. … and she did not use my name, but she said … Chimene Onyeri – intended to kill the judge. … The investigator of the district attorney's office … determined that she was not credible. Never spoke to me, never spoke to me about the threat.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: It was a mistake. I mean, they should have – alert the judges immediately.
Judge Julie Kocurek: It seems to me that it is Investigations 101 – who would have informed me of the threat. It was disappointing. … I would have been a lot more alert. There were signs in my neighborhood, if I had known, besides, that this threat had happened, I would have completely changed what I was doing and my family.
Det. Derek Israel: What we learned, is that when Onyeri left the hearing in the court of Judge Kocurek … the first thing he said, is that he will kill her. … Now Chimene Onyeri is number one. So now we have to find Chimene Onyeri. … Once I learned that Onyeri was our suspect, the same informant also told us that Onyeri was bragging about a murder committed in Houston.
It was the murder of a man who allegedly attacked Onyeri 's father.
Det. Derek Israel: Now that this informant was approaching to give information, they felt that they had enough to load it. … And even before I could go to Houston, the marshals had it in custody.
Will Kocurek: I received an alert on my phone stating that they had found a suspect because I had activated the alerts to find out if they had caught it or not.
Will KocurekOnce I saw his face, I had dreams and he was in it and he was trying to shoot me. Sometimes I dreamed of feeling the balls in my back and waking up and sweating. … I realized that he was probably watching us for a while and that he knew what he was going to do and when he was going to do it … it was as if all your life had been violated.
Gregg Sofer | Federal Attorney, Austin, Texas: He was arrested only three days after the shooting.
Gregg Sofer: And this kept him in Houston for a long period of time while the investigation was continuing.
Onyeri was a strong suspect in Kocurek's shooting, but the authorities have not yet charged him. They were working on a larger federal case involving not only Kocurek's attempted murder, but also accusations of fraud and racketeering. It was a criminal network, with more than a dozen co-conspirators.
Det. Derek IsraelWhen I spoke to Onyeri … regarding Judge Kocurek, you know, he absolutely denied any involvement in the shootings. That he would never do something like this. … we needed to have more evidence.
Det. Derek Israel: When I went to talk to Onyeri in Houston when he was arrested in the Houston homicide … he denied, you know, to be involved in any way – in the shootout. … This case would not be a confession. From there, it was clear that we had to prove everything we were going to blame him.
Gregg Sofer: There was … the advice … that he had actually shot the judge. … and that's fine. … a strong enough clue that he was – an important suspect. Of course, a person who says that is not enough and it certainly will not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So a lot of what was going on over the next few months was really trying to corroborate the tip. And there were a lot of things that helped corroborate the tip. Among them, there was finally his phone, which was found in the car at the time of his arrest.
Det. Derek IsraelWhen he was arrested by police – in Houston – he destroyed his cell phone. And when I say that he destroyed his cell phone, he tore it in half. And luckily for us, when he tore it in half, he did not break the storage card that was inside. So, once we received the phone records, we were able to find that Onyeri … was in Austin during the time of filming.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I later learned that– for a month, he had been to Austin four or five times and had sat in front of my house and watched us– come and go.
Gregg SoferHe stalked her in the same way that a hunter stalked his prey, in the same way that the forces of order were watching, a villain in a case. He followed it. He learned from her. He did some research on it. He was able to follow his movements, know where she was and know her family. And hired other people to try to gather evidence about it.
Gregg Sofer: It was all about things like … pictures of Judge Kocurek's car while he was following her here in Austin, pictures of the high school where his son had gone.
Gregg Sofer: And one of the pictures that he took was that of peacocks. It turns out that there is a park near the judge's home that they call Park Peacock. And I guess he does not see many peacocks roaming the streets of Houston. So, it must have been – a novelty …. And then, he took a picture. It also helped because the judge, as soon as she saw those pictures, she knew right away where he was.
Det. Derek IsraelWe have photos of Onyeri at Motel Six in Austin. We have photos of Onyeri at a hardware store in Austin.
He was there to buy gloves that, according to the investigators, were part of his plan to shoot the judge.
Det. Derek Israel: And as the guy calls them – what he's paying for with a stolen debit card – the guy calls them out, Onyeri takes them off and he puts them on and he says, "Ah, that's great."
Will KocurekShe was hit on November 6th and was released just before Christmas.
Dr. Patrick Combs: Judge Kocurek spent 40 days in the hospital … suffered 25 to 30 operations.
Dr. Patrick CombsAfter Judge Kocurek left the hospital, she still needed a lot of work to recover. This included hand therapy, intensive physical therapy and many other operations.
Will Kocurek: And she was quite vulnerable because she could not even stand up at that moment. … I did not really like it because I felt that she could stay in the hospital and be safe all the time, and being at home would make it easier, you know, for someone. One to look for it and finish it off if they wanted to.
Judge Julie Kocurek: We were moved to a safe place. … we had the SWAT team – watching over us, patrolling and with us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 18 months.
Judge Julie Kocurek: As a judge, I run every four years and I do not know when, but I told my husband, "You know, I have to run for re-election." … and my brothers and sisters did not want me to go back to work. And I did not do it at first. I thought about it a long time and hard.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: I knew she had to talk to her family. I knew it was going to be a tough conversation … She was eligible for retirement. And so, I was not sure what she was going to do.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I wondered why I had come into this kind of work. And I mean, I meet every day with the most at-risk people in our community.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: So I called her in my apartment after she stayed up. And I said, "Judge, I want to tell you two things: First of all, the judiciary is at your side … know that 3,000 Texas judges are completely at your side. Secondly, do you want to stay in? And if you want to help be a leader in advocacy for safer courts and tribunals? "
Judge Julie Kocurek: And I said: "Absolutely Yes, I want to use this experience to help other judges to be safe." When someone does something to you like that, you just want to fight to get everything you had. … I had to go back, I felt like, to show that judges would not back down in the face of violence.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: I was very proud of her.
FEB. 29, 2016 | 16 weeks after shooting
Judge Julie KocurekWhen I got back in this audience hall … it was one of the happiest moments of my life, going out and seeing all my friends and co-workers there. This affirmed what I knew I had to do.
La juge Julie Kocurek: Tout le temps je voulais faire des changements. Je ne voulais pas, je ne voulais pas que cela se reproduise pour quiconque. … Ils allaient élaborer un projet de loi, créer un comité de sécurité du tribunal et proposer des idées.
Le juge en chef Nathan Hecht: Nous avons présenté le projet de loi au début de janvier 2017.… Et nous l'avions nommé Projet de loi de la juge Julie Kocurek sur la sécurité judiciaire et le palais de justice de 2017. Et nous en étions très fiers. … Il est très difficile de faire beaucoup pour sécuriser complètement les juges. Mais il y a beaucoup de choses… qui rendent plus difficile la recherche de quelqu'un. … Vous pouvez changer votre adresse sur votre permis de conduire, sur votre registre d'électeur… et utiliser une adresse professionnelle au lieu d'une adresse personnelle. … Un autre élément de la législation devait prêter attention à chaque menace.
La juge Julie Kocurek: Et comme je le lui ai dit, je pense que c'était très thérapeutique pour Will et moi de faire cela ensemble – cela nous a donné l'impression que nous avions un impact positif.
Will Kocurek: Je pensais que j'essaierais peut-être d'utiliser mon côté pour aider… parce que je ne voulais vraiment pas que cela arrive à quelqu'un d'autre.
Le juge en chef Nathan Hecht: voir un jeune homme comme celui-là s'attaquer à cette grande cause… Cela ne faisait que bouger.
KOCUREK [ADDRESSING SENATE HEARING]: Je m'appelle Will Kocurek, j'ai 17 ans et je suis en faveur du projet de loi 42 du Sénat. … J'ai toujours pensé que la violence qu'elle avait vue resterait dans sa salle d'audience, mais le 6 novembre 2015, tout a changé.
Le juge en chef Nathan Hecht: Et cela a fait une énorme impression sur les législateurs.
PRÉSIDENT DU SÉNAT: Le projet de loi 42 du Sénat est finalement adopté.
Tandis que le juge et Will s'efforçaient d'assurer la sécurité des juges, les enquêteurs s'employèrent à traduire en justice le dossier du juge Kocurek. Houston D.A. a rejeté l'accusation de meurtre, affirmant que cela contribuerait à accélérer le traitement des autres infractions d'Onyeri.
Det. Derek Israel: Grâce à notre enquête, nous avons pu déterminer qu'il était en train de créer son propre réseau de criminels organisés.
En décembre 2016, les procureurs fédéraux ont inculpé Onyeri pour conspiration criminelle et tentative d'assassinat du juge Kocurek. Il a été accusé de 17 chefs d’accusation allant du racket au vol d’identité en passant par la falsification de témoins.
Gregg Sofer: Nous avons passé des années à travailler sur l'affaire et à la placer dans une position telle qu'elle était prête pour le procès.
LE CAS CONTRE CHIMENE ONYERI
Gregg Sofer | Procureur fédéral: Le procès a commencé… fin mars 2018.
911 DISPATCHER: Comté de Travis 911.
WILL KOCUREK: Hé! Help me! Help me! Help me! On vient de se faire tirer dessus!
WILL KOCUREK: Ce gars vient de courir vers la voiture et a tiré sur ma mère!
Gregg Sofer: Franchement, il est difficile d'entendre un adolescent de 15 ans qui pense que sa mère va mourir sous son visage. … Mais nous avons pensé que c'était un moyen important de commencer.
28 MOIS APRES LE TOURNAGE
Will Kocurek: Quand ils m'ont appelé… et je suis entré et j'ai vu les gens dans la salle d'audience. … J'étais enthousiaste à l'idée de le faire, vraiment.
La juge Julie Kocurek: Ce fut l'un des moments les plus difficiles… C'était presque aussi dur que de tirer. … Avoir à le regarder témoigner. … C'était douloureux.
Will Kocurek: Eh bien, je n’aimais pas du tout revenir en arrière. Mais j'étais heureux de pouvoir en finir avec ça.
La juge Julie Kocurek: Je me sentais terriblement coupable que mon enfant ait dû traverser ça. And I was nervous for him, but he did beautifully.
Gregg Sofer: We had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to kill her.
Gregg Sofer: The best evidence of what was going on inside of Chimene Onyeri's mind were his texts … that showed his interaction with his friends and colleagues.
Gregg Sofer: He had been in her courtroom only a few weeks before the shooting. … And his texts made it pretty clear, when you read them, almost immediately after walking outta her courtroom that day, he started using expletives to describe her.
ONYERI TEXT: … judge a bitch
Gregg Sofer: He described how much he hated her, and how mad he was. And almost immediately after that, he started looking for her.
ONYERI TEXT: U think he find addresses on people like that
Gregg Sofer: The evidence … showed that the defendant had selected– a kind of what they call frangible round. … And what it's designed to do is hit flesh and open up and cause the maximum amount of damage.
Det. Derek Israel: The best way to see how it works is to see it in action.
Gregg Sofer: The FBI's lab … fired similar rounds through similar materials.
Gregg Sofer: The slow-motion depiction of that round hitting a window … was important for us to show the jury, so they could understand the nature of the injuries that the judge suffered.
Gregg Sofer: When we first heard about Chimene Onyeri, we were told no one would ever testify against him, because he had a reputation in Houston that would preclude n'importe qui from flipping.
Det. Derek Israel: Onyeri had been arrested in the past for murder and for robbery. … And one of the ways that he got off … was that he got the word out to all the witnesses, "If you testify against me … it's gonna be bad for you."
Gregg Sofer: We ended up having over a dozen people who — who decided it was in their interest to testify against him, rather than sit next to him.
Det. Derek Israel: We were able to have them testify to show their level of knowledge about … not just in the shooting, but in the criminal enterprise that Onyeri was running.
Gregg Sofer: It was important … to end with the victim being able to describe what had happened to her.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I testified about … that night. … Words can't describe how this has affected our family and me. But I tried to articulate it the best that I could.
KEYE NEWS REPORT: Just minutes ago Chimene Onyeri admitted he fired a shot at Judge Julie Kocurek's car, which he says he thought was empty …
Gregg Sofer: His argument for the attempted murder was accident, essentially. That he had come to Austin 'cause he was mad … and that he intended to scare her by firing rounds into her vehicle, that he did not know she was inside.
Judge Julie Kocurek: He said he was just trying to scare me. But I think the evidence showed that when you shoot someone from four feet away with a handgun and aim it at their heads …that you intend to kill.
Gregg Sofer: He didn't — he didn't care if she was a judge or not. He looked at her as an impediment to his business, essentially. And he was gonna take that impediment out.
Gregg Sofer: It was a monthlong trial. … Trying to figure out what a jury's gonna do, and how they're gonna do it, and when they're gonna do it is folly. … I anticipated they would be out for a significant period of time just because of the length of the trial.
Judge Julie Kocurek It was very stressful, not knowing and– having it in the jury's hands. … And so, I sat and tried to not second-guess.
Gregg Sofer: They were out about a day, approximately a day, day-and-a-half before they reached a verdict.
KEYE NEWS REPORT: Today a jury found Chimene Onyeri guilty for shooting Judge Julie Kocurek back in 2015.
Judge Julie Kocurek: It's guilty, guilty on all counts.
Will Kocurek: When they actually did find him guilty and I was there … that's when I felt a lot of relief for the first time in — since it had happened.
Judge Julie Kocurek: It was a tremendous relief when the trial was over. I didn't realize the pressure that it … had put on me physically and emotionally and on my family, to have that over with. Because we had been waiting for a long time.
Gregg Sofer: Chimene Onyeri faced a minimum of two years in a federal prison, and a maximum of life. … this was an attack on the system and the message that needed to be sent to the community, to anyone thinking of doing something like this, is this will not be tolerated, period.
Det. Derek Israel: Our informants continued to be in danger. … Judge Kocurek continued to remain in danger as long as there was a possibility he would get out. … So, the question was what would be his punishment?
A JUDGE'S LEGACY
Judge Julie Kocurek: I felt like if he would … try to … assassinate a judge, he will try to kill anyone.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I would not recommend a sentence. I think that's solely within the court's discretion. I know it's a difficult job from personal experience. It's never easy to sentence another human being … to prison. … But I really wanted to have safety for my family and the community.
Gregg Sofer: Chimene Onyeri was sentenced to life in prison.
JUDGE JULIE KOCUREK [speaking to reporters after Onyeri’s sentencing]: I am so proud of the way these agencies came together to show that the justice system will prevail and that's why I came back to work in the first place.
Judge Julie Kocurek : We didn't celebrate that he was — got life in prison. We just were relieved that it was over. … I don't hold any vengeance or hatred towards him. But I want him to be in a place where he will not hurt anyone else.
JUDGE JULIE KOCUREK [speaking to reporters after Onyeri’s sentencing]: It just feels so good to wake up in the morning and know that my family is safe from Mr. Onyeri and his associates.
Will Kocurek: It's not something that keeps me up at night. Sometimes it does, but not always. I've just kinda gotten used to it 'cause it's something that I've lived with for a while.
Judge Julie Kocurek: Our family will never be the same. Unfortunately, we don't have the carefree feelings that we used to have. I have this picture of our family in Colorado three months before this happened, and I remember that hike like it was the best time of our lives, because it was so free and so safe. I long to feel that way again. We're getting there, but it's a process.
Will Kocurek: I'm more aware of what's goin' on around me, which sometimes is not a good thing because it's, you know, it's hard to have a good time when I'm always worried about that. … Goin' off to college was hard 'cause I was worried something would happen to my parents while I was gone. … It's taught me how easy it is to lose people around you and how easy it is for something to happen that you never would've expected to happen.
Judge Julie Kocurek: He was the hero in this whole thing. He showed tremendous courage. … but he did his best to save my life and protect me. … If Will had not have stayed by my door, the passenger side … the shooter could have come directly up to my window. …But Will stood firm and would not let him get close to me. … You know, a 15-year-old boy should not have to do that.
Judge Julie Kocurek Some people might look at my hand as scarred and, you know, skin grafts. But I think of it every day as my heroic hand. It saved my life and it shielded my head and my throat and my eyes from all that shrapnel that hit me on that night.
Dr. Patrick Combs: Judge Kocurek is doing extremely well. … She's living her life. She's actually, probably, doing better than I would've anticipated.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I felt like I would never be able to go anywhere by myself again. And at night, the feelings of it haunts you — it haunts you. But I've been through a ton of therapy … It brought me back to being able to do things that I did not think that I would ever be able to do again, because I was so afraid. I was frozen by fear.
Judge Julie Kocurek: These are letters from people that came in after the shooting … I call it my wall of support. … People that I don't even know sent me letters, and that's, you know, judges and fellow judges from other states. Inmates — some that I had sentenced. … When I think about how long I was in the hospital and where I was and how far I've come … And this is just a reminder. These letters will stay up as long as I'm on the bench.
Gregg Sofer: She's an inspirational person … And many people would've decided, "You know what? The amount of money I make in the public sector is not worth risking my life. And I — and I don't ever wanna get back on that bench again." It's a credit to her … that she had the courage and ability to get back up there and do her job.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: What will Judge Kocurek's legacy be? I think it will be, first, that she was a good judge … But nobody will ever forget …. that she got shot. … She has really turned that terrible situation into something that has made the state a better place.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I don't know what my legacy will be. But if I were to go today, it would be the Judicial Security Act as far as my professional life. And I don't know what life holds. I'm gonna be on the bench for … a lot longer. And I will go wherever this leads me to help people.
Other states are now following Texas' lead, moving to improve judicial security.
Judge Kocurek is more determined than ever to seek re-election.