Ambushed judge survives attack with a mission to protect others
Senior producer: Ruth Chenetz | Producer:Anthony Venditti
What if someone wants you dead … but you live to tell?
“48 Hours” explores the terrifying moments when an assailant began shooting Judge Julie Kocurek outside her home, in front of her son, and how she found the strength to survive. She shares how the attempted murder changed not just the her and her family, but the handling of security for all judges in Texas.
Judge Julie Kocurek | Travis County Criminal District Court: We are never gonna be the same. … Driving at night is never gonna be the same. … And we all feel that it never should have happened.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I was the first female district judge to be on a criminal bench … in Travis County. Governor Bush appointed me in 1999. … I think the fact that I was expecting twins brought a lot of attention to the whole process.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I treated people … in my courtroom … with respect and kindness and patience. But firm when I needed to be.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I knew that there was the potential threat — because of the high-risk people that I’m seein’ every day. … The decisions I make every day. Someone’s not gonna — going to leave happy.
NOV. 6, 2015
Judge Julie Kocurek: It was a Friday. I had family and we’re gonna go to the football game, you know, Texas football on Friday night. … Will and I and my sister drove, it was just like any other night.
Will Kocurek | Judge Kocurek’s son: We always went to the football games every Friday night.
Will Kocurek: My cousin and aunt were comin’ in town so I was excited to see them and have a good night.
Judge Julie Kocurek: It was rainy so after halftime, we decided to — head home. … Will had his learner’s permit so he drove.
Will Kocurek: My mom was next to me in the passenger seat. My aunt and cousin were in the back.
Judge Julie Kocurek: So we drove up to the security gate and we drove into our driveway.
Will Kocurek: And as we’re pulling into the driveway I saw a leaf bag that was blocking the gate.
Judge Julie Kocurek: And we — thought it was strange. I thought it was a prank. And so we — Will got out of the car.
Will Kocurek: Got out, picked it up, and then started to walk down towards the street with it. … I saw someone start to kinda walk down the street. And I noticed he was dressed in all black and I thought it was a little weird. … And then, all of the sudden, he just started running straight at me. And so, I turned around and ran back to my mom’s side of the car.
Will Kocurek: And then he — pulled out a gun and started shootin’. … he shot four times through the … driver’s side window.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I scooted down as far as I could in the seat. And I protected my head with my arm and my hand. I can remember thinking, “I’m going to die in front of my own son.”
911 OPERATOR: Travis County 911
WILL KOCUREK: Hey! Help! Help! Help! We just got shot at!
911 OPERATOR: Is anybody injured?
WILL KOCUREK: My mom is … Please hurry, this guy just ran up to the car and shot my mom.
Det. Derek Israel | Austin P.D. (Retired): I got called by one of the supervisors in the homicide unit who told me there had been a shooting– and that the victim of the shooting was … State District Court Judge Julie Kocurek.
Det. Derek Israel: When you’re a judge, you potentially have a lot of enemies. …she’d sent a lotta people to prison. There [are] potentially hundreds — if not thousands — of individuals who might hold a grudge against her.
Judge Julie Kocurek: We didn’t know who did this. … And … it just shows you that you never know who it’s gonna be.
A BRUTAL ATTACK
Will Kocurek: Opening the door was almost like opening a Christmas present … Because when I opened it and saw she was alive, I was really surprised.
Judge Julie Kocurek: And I said, “I’m OK,” because when he opened the door, he was screaming.
WILL KOCUREK | 911 AUDIO [crying] It’s OK mom, it’s OK, it’s OK.
Will Kocurek: And she told me she was OK, and that was a little shocking at first. And then when she looked up and I saw blood everywhere, I knew that she was not OK.
Judge Julie Kocurek: And I assured him that I was conscious, but I was afraid for us to stay near that car. I wanted to get away from that car so that they couldn’t come back and shoot us all. So, Will and my sister and my nephew got me outta the car and got me up to the porch. … And my sister said to me as I was laying on the porch, “You are quitting that job.”
Judge Julie Kocurek: The pain is like never anything that, like I felt before. It was excruciating. And I had a bullet behind my neck that was just — and in my shoulder, and I knew I couldn’t — couldn’t move.
Will Kocurek: And once we got up to the porch … I really thought she was gonna die so I kinda just told her goodbye.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I mean — Will said goodbye to me. He — I told him I loved him. … and we just waited for the police to come. It seemed like an eternity.
Will Kocurek: Once I heard the sirens coming, I ran down to the street.
COP: Where is, where’d he go?
WILL KOCUREK: He went down that way! He’s dressed in all black!
Will Kocurek: I thought maybe we can get the guy who did it — and then I don’t have to spend the next however many years worrying about who it was, if she does die or even if she doesn’t.
Judge Julie Kocurek: The police arrive, and I told one officer that I was a judge, and I felt like it was related to my work. … I knew that if I could remember and if I made it 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 speeding away. And it was a gray sedan. I wanted whoever did this to be apprehended.
Det. Derek Israel: I head out to where her house is at and where, where the shooting occurred. … By the time I got to the scene … the judge had been transported to the hospital. … the judge’s car is in her driveway. One of the windows is shot out. …There’s lots of blood in there. And … we ended up finding four cartridge cases that matched up — essentially to what the information we were getting from witnesses, both the witnesses who were there in the car and, other, y’know, neighbors who heard the shots, that there 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 small gunshot fragments. … She had — extensive wounds over her left shoulder, her face, her scalp, her right forearm, her left hand, her left forearm. But she was awake and she was stable.
The judge’s husband, Kelly, and Will’s twin sister, Mary Frances, rushed to the hospital. Will arrived later, after answering questions from police about the shooting.
Will Kocurek: When I walked in the hospital, I still had her blood on me. … And my sister came up to me and she was really upset. And my dad was in there, and I hadn’t seen him since it happened.
Dr. Patrick Combs: The bullet wounds with Judge Kocurek were a large number of small wounds, some larger wounds. All of them had this liquid, copper, metallic material within them. … I had not seen anything like that before.
Det. Derek Israel: I got a call from her doctor, just a very desperate call. And her doctor was like, “What the hell did she get shot with?” … I described this particular bullet … And this was a sort of unique ammunition specially designed to be frangible, meaning that it — it comes apart—you know, when … it strikes flesh it comes apart.
The bullet is meant to cause the maximum amount of damage. While four bullets were shot, the judge had hundreds of gunshot fragments and wounds. In between surgeries to remove the fragments, Judge Kocurek spoke with police. As someone who’s heard every type of criminal case, she knew any clue — anything she could recall — could be important.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I told the police I had had two hang-up calls the day before I was shot. And it was odd. … And … the week before … It was Halloween weekend … And I noticed this man that was dressed in street clothes jogging by and staring at me as I was putting up my Halloween decorations. … and I waved at him and smiled. And he just stared at me. It was odd, but you know, it doesn’t mean someone’s gonna try to kill you.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht | Supreme Court of Texas:. I was just horrified.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: Judge Kocurek didn’t get shot because she’s Julie. She got shot because she was doin’ her job. And that’s a real threat to the rule of law and the — and the judicial work. … I’ll tell you — when you’re leavin’ the courtroom late at night and you’re walking through a dark parkin’ lot, you’re looking over your shoulder differently than you were before Julie got shot. ‘Cause it could happen to me.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I remember Sunday night, some friends came in to see me and I felt hot. … I didn’t feel good.
Dr. Patrick Combs: Judge Kocurek became critically ill on the second day of her hospitalization. She developed a high white blood cell count, which is a marker of infection, and a high fever, as well. And we knew we needed to take her to the operating room in order to explore the wounds.
Dr. Patrick Combs: In the operating room, it became apparent, really quickly, that she had a really bad infection … we knew that there was — a significant chance that she might die. … And it wouldn’t have been safe to wake her up and — and to 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 was going there every day to see her, so I knew that she wasn’t — it was — I mean, you could tell she wasn’t doing well by looking at her, most of the time. I tried not to think about her possibly dying during that ’cause I figured that if we’d already made it through the main event of it, then we could get through the infection.
Dr. Patrick Combs: After the first couple of operations, she became less ill. And we were able to wake her up and take her out of that medically-induced coma and she was able to breathe on her own.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I woke up, and I felt like I was in the depths of the Earth. I have never felt that much psychological pain. … My husband walked in. I said, “How am I gonna get out of this hole? I am in a hole and I don’t know how to get out.” And he said “Take one day at a time. … we’re gonna get over this.” … I was so fearful that I wasn’t going to be able to get my life back. I was worried for my children.
Will Kocurek: I would have dreams about it every night. Couldn’t sleep. Didn’t want to go outside at night. I really stopped hanging out with my friends for a while after that.
Judge Julie Kocurek: The guilt that I felt choosing a profession that put my son and family in harm’s way … There were times that I wanted to die. I felt like I was damaged goods and that my family would be a lot better off without me. They would be safer. … ‘Cause we didn’t know … if it was going to be a continuing threat. I mean, the — it would be hard to live your life with someone out there not knowing who was trying to kill you.
A MISSED WARNING
Judge Julie Kocurek: The hospital stay … was horrific. … I had open wounds on my whole arm and my face.
Dr. Patrick Combs: The judge’s left index finger was severely injured. She had an infection that involved the bone … And it became apparent that … she would have a much more functional hand — if we amputated that finger.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I just remember coming out of surgery one day, and they are saying, “We took off your finger.” … And it’s got 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 her family was pretty remarkable, too. And I know this was an incredibly difficult time for her. She was thinking a little bit about herself. But I think she was thinking more about the well-being of her son and what her son had gone through. She mentioned that many times during the hospitalization.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I questioned … the security of my family. Whether I could go back to work and feel like my family was going to be safe.
Det. Derek Israel: In this particular case … this is a public official, she’s well known, her name is in the paper all the time. She’s also a wife, a mother, a member of the community. Just because she’s a judge, you can’t ignore the fact that — this could be just an ordinary motivation. It could be a husband tryin’ to get rid of a wife. … So these questions had to be asked. In the hospital — her husband agreed to sit down with me. And I grilled him about all those things. … I very quickly got the sense — that’s not — where it’s at.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I know that my probation officers and prosecutors, they were combing files when I was in the hospital.
Det. Derek Israel: I was inundated with people giving us all sorts of names … I received a call from an investigator at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, and he told me that, you know, a couple weeks before they had received a … tip — saying that a particular person named Chimene Onyeri was planning to shoot a judge in Travis County. … After the shooting happened, an additional tip came in from the same tipster. … now she’s saying not only did he say that he was going to, but now he’s bragging that he did. … We were very focused on Chimene Onyeri.
Judge Julie Kocurek: He was from Houston, a clean-cut, nice-looking kid. … Mr. Onyeri came before me on a motion to revoke probation.
Det. Derek Israel: He … is a 28-year-old who … spent a considerable amount of time on his criminal activities.
It was one of those criminal activities that first landed Onyeri in Judge Kocurek’s courtroom in 2012. It involved fake credit cards. Onyeri was given probation. He came before her again in 2015 to revoke his probation due to new fraud charges. The judge kept him on probation, pending a trial.
Judge Julie Kocurek: It was a very, very ordinary case.
Or so the judge thought. She would later learn Onyeri was far more than a common criminal. He was running a complex financial criminal enterprise and he wanted to make sure the judge wouldn’t shut it down.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I had found out … that Mr. Onyeri’s girlfriend … had known that he was planning to kill me and had called the District Attorney’s Office. … And she didn’t use my name, but she said … Chimene Onyeri — was planning on killing the judge. … The District Attorney’s Office investigator … determined that she wasn’t credible. Never spoke to me, never told me of the threat.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: That was a mistake. I mean, they should’ve — alerted the judges right then and there.
Judge Julie Kocurek: Seems to me like that’s Investigations 101 – of they would let me know about the threat. It was disappointing. … I would have been much more alert. There were signs in my neighborhood, had I known, in addition, that this threat had come in, I would have completely changed what I was doing and my family.
Det. Derek Israel: What we learned is that when Onyeri walked out of that hearing in Judge Kocurek’s court … the first thing he said is he’s gonna kill her. … Now Chimene Onyeri is number one. So now we have to find Chimene Onyeri. … Once I learned that Onyeri was our suspect, we also learned from the same informant that Onyeri was bragging about a murder he did in Houston.
It was the murder of a man who allegedly assaulted Onyeri’s father.
Det. Derek Israel: Now that this informant was coming forward to give information, they felt they had enough to charge him. … and before I could even make it to Houston, the marshals had him in custody.
Will Kocurek: I got an alert on my phone that said they had found a suspect, because I had turned on news alerts to see if they caught him or not.
Will Kocurek: Once I saw his face, I’d have dreams and he was in it, and he was tryin’ to shoot me. Sometimes I’d have dreams where I could feel the bullets goin’ into my back and I’d wake up and — sweatin’. … I realized that he was probably watching us for a while and figuring out what he was gonna do and when he was gonna do it … it felt like your whole life was violated.
Gregg Sofer | Federal Prosecutor, Austin, Texas: He was arrested only three days after the shooting.
Gregg Sofer: And that held him in Houston for a significant period of time while the investigation continued.
Onyeri was a strong suspect in Judge Kocurek’s shooting, but authorities did not yet charge him. They were working to build a larger federal case involving not just Judge Kocurek’s attempted murder, but fraud and racketeering charges as well. It was a criminal ring, with more than a dozen co-conspirators.
Det. Derek Israel: When I talked to Onyeri … in terms of Judge Kocurek, you know, he absolutely denied any involvement in the shooting. That he would never do something like this. … We had 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, being involved in any way — in the shooting. … this case wasn’t gonna be a confession case. It was clear from that point we were gonna have to prove everything that we were gonna charge him with.
Gregg Sofer: There was … the tip … that he had actually shot the judge. … And that’s pretty good. … a pretty strong clue that he was — a significant suspect. Of course, one person saying something like that is not good enough, and it’s not certainly going to prove someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So, a lot of what went on then for the next months really was to try to corroborate the tip. And there were many things that helped corroborate the tip. Among them, ultimately, was his phone, which had been recovered in the car at the time of his arrest.
Det. Derek Israel: When he was stopped by police — in Houston — he destroyed his cellphone. And when I say he destroyed his cellphone, he ripped his cellphone in half. And fortunately for us, when he ripped it in half he didn’t break the storage card that was inside. So, once we got the phone records we could see that Onyeri … was in Austin durin’ the time of the shooting.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I found out later that– for a month, he had driven to Austin on four or five occasions and sat in front of my house and watched us– come and go.
Gregg Sofer: He stalked her the same way that — a hunter would stalk its prey, the same way law enforcement would surveil — a bad guy in a case. He followed her. He learned about her. He researched her. He was able to track her movements, know where she was, knew about her family. And enlisted other people to try to gather evidence as well about her.
Gregg Sofer: It ranged from things … like pictures of Judge Kocurek’s car as he was following her around here in Austin, pictures of the high school that her son went to.
Gregg Sofer: And one of the pictures he took was of peacocks. It turns out there’s a park near the judge’s house that they call Peacock Park. And I guess he doesn’t see too many peacocks roaming around the streets of Houston. So, it must’ve been — a novelty…. And so, he snapped a picture of it. That helped as well because the judge, as soon as she saw those pictures, she knew right away where he was.
Det. Derek Israel: We have pictures of Onyeri at the Motel Six in Austin. We have pictures of Onyeri in a hardware store in Austin.
He was there buying gloves that investigators believe were part of his plan to shoot the judge.
Det. Derek Israel: And as the guy is ringing these up — which, by the way, he’s paying with a stolen debit card — as the guy is ringing this up, Onyeri is taking them out and he’s putting them on and he’s like, “Ah these are great.”
Will Kocurek: She got shot on November 6th and got out right before Christmas.
Dr. Patrick Combs: Judge Kocurek was in the hospital for 40 days … had 25 to 30 operations.
Dr. Patrick Combs: After Judge Kocurek left the hospital, she still required pretty extensive work in order to recover. This included hand therapy, extensive physical therapy, and multiple other operations as well.
Will Kocurek: And she was pretty vulnerable ’cause she couldn’t even stand up really at the time. … I didn’t really like it because I felt like she could sit in the hospital and be safe all the time, and bein’ at home would make it, you know, easier to — for somebody to get her and finish it if they wanted to.
Judge Julie Kocurek: We were moved to a safe location. … We had the SWAT team as — watching over us, patrolling and with us 24/7 for 18 months.
Judge Julie Kocurek: As a judge, I run every four years, and I don’t know at what point, but I told my husband, “You know, I have to file for re-election.” … And my sisters and brothers did not want me to go back to work. And I didn’t, initially. I thought about it long and hard.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: I knew she had to talk to her family about that. I knew that was gonna be a hard conversation … She was eligible to retire. And, so, I wasn’t sure what she was gonna do.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I questioned why I had gone into this line of work. And I mean, I’m coming face-to-face with the highest risk people in our community every day.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: So I called her over to my chambers after she was kind of on her feet. And I said, “Judge, I wanna tell you two things. First, the judiciary stands shoulder-to-shoulder with you … please know that 3,000 judges in Texas are completely on your side. Second, do you wanna stay? And if you do, do you wanna help be a leader in advocating for greater judicial and courthouse security?”
Judge Julie Kocurek: And I said, “Absolutely. I do, I want to use this experience to help other judges be safe.” When someone does something like this to you, you just want to fight to get everything back that you had. … so I had to go back, I felt like, to show that judges will not back down in the face of violence.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: I was very proud of her.
FEB. 29, 2016 | 16 WEEKS AFTER THE SHOOTING
Judge Julie Kocurek: When I stepped back into that courtroom … it was one of the happiest moments of my life, walking out and seeing all my friends and coworkers there. It affirmed what I knew that I needed to do.
Judge Julie Kocurek: The whole time I wanted to make changes. I didn’t want, not want this to happen again to anyone. …they were gonna draft — legislation and create a court security committee and come up with ideas.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: We introduced the bill in early January of 2017. … And we had named it the Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Bill of 2017. And we were very proud of that name. … It’s very hard to — do much to make judges completely secure. But there are a lot of things … that makes it more difficult for somebody to find you. … You can change your address on your driver’s license, on your voter records … and use a business address instead of a home address. … Another piece of the legislation needed to be paying attention to each and every threat.
Judge Julie Kocurek: And as I told him, I think it was very therapeutic for Will and I to do this together — it made us feel like we were making a positive impact.
Will Kocurek: I thought maybe I would try and use my side of it to help … because I really didn’t want that to happen to anyone else.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: to see a young man like that take on that big of cause … It was just stirring.
WILL KOCUREK [ADDRESSING SENATE HEARING]: I’m Will Kocurek and I’m 17 years old and I’m in favor of Senate Bill 42. … I always thought the violence that she saw would stay in her courtroom, but on November 6, 2015, that all changed.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht: And it made a huge impression on the legislators.
CHAIRMAN OF THE SENATE: Senate Bill 42 is finally passed.
As the judge and Will worked to keep judges safe, investigators worked to bring Judge Kocurek’s case to justice. The Houston D.A. dismissed the murder charge there, saying it would help expedite the handling of Onyeri’s other offenses.
Det. Derek Israel: Through our investigation we were able to determine that he was basically creating his own little — organized crime ring.
In December 2016, federal prosecutors indicted Onyeri for his criminal conspiracy and the attempted murder of Judge Kocurek. He was charged with 17 counts ranging from racketeering to identity theft to witness tampering.
Gregg Sofer: We spent years working on the case and getting it into a position that it was ready for trial.
THE CASE AGAINST CHIMENE ONYERI
Gregg Sofer | Federal Prosecutor: The trial started … in late March of 2018.
911 DISPATCHER: Travis County 911.
WILL KOCUREK: Hey! Help! Help! Help! We just got shot at!
WILL KOCUREK: This guy just ran up to the car and shot my Mom!
Gregg Sofer: It’s hard to listen to, frankly, to hear a 15-year-old thinking that his mother is gonna die right in front of his face. … But we thought that was an important way to start.
28 MONTHS AFTER THE SHOOTING
Will Kocurek: When they called me in … and I walked in and I saw the people in the courtroom. … I was excited to — to get it done, really.
Judge Julie Kocurek: That was one of the hardest moments … It was almost as hard as the shooting. … having to watch him testify. … It was painful.
Will Kocurek: Well, I didn’t like looking back on it at all. But I was happy that I could get it over with.
Judge Julie Kocurek: I felt tremendous guilt that my child had to go through this. 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 anyone 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 plans to seek re-election in 2020.