A DNA error and an overlooked note: Family express outrage over police investigation of Texas woman’s killing

A DNA error and an overlooked note: Family express outrage over police investigation of Texas woman’s killing


Gloria Lofton’s death at her Texas home in 2019 had been a mystery — until a murder suspect allegedly confessed to her killing and others last year.

An autopsy in Lofton’s death had been inconclusive. And relatives, who said authorities provided few details about the death, came to believe an alcohol-related accident may have been to blame. 

Now, one of her daughters is furious after the Austin Police Department acknowledged this month that it did not act on key forensic evidence that could have linked the suspect, Raul Meza Jr., to Lofton’s death four years earlier. 

And the daughter, Christina Fultz, said authorities appear to have missed another important clue that provided an even more direct and immediate link to Meza — a mysterious note that she said she and her sister found at Lofton’s home six days after her body was discovered.

The note, which has not previously been reported, identified Meza by name.

Gloria Lofton was found dead in her Austin, Texas, home in 2019.
Gloria Lofton was found dead in her Austin, Texas, home in 2019.Courtesy Sonia Houston

Fultz, 35, said that they found the note after police had searched the house and that neither she nor her sister turned it over to them. She had forgotten about it and recently found images of the document while searching her phone for a video that she shot of Lofton’s home after her death.  

“It was there in front of us this whole time, and who knows how many deaths may have been prevented had they looked around a little bit further and a little bit harder?” Fultz said.

In his alleged confession to a homicide detective in May, Meza also implicated himself in the killing that month of Jesse Fraga, a retired probation officer whom authorities have described as Meza’s caregiver and roommate, according to an affidavit in support of Meza’s arrest.

The affidavit says he also detailed a double murder he committed in San Antonio years earlier.

Meza, 63, served 11 years in prison for the 1982 murder and sexual assault of an 8-year-old girl. At a news conference after his arrest last year, law enforcement officials said they were re-examining as many as 10 unsolved homicides in the Austin area dating to the 1990s. Meza has not been charged in any other killings. 

In July, authorities said they searched a field and found a possible gravesite linked to Meza with partly buried clothes and a tarp but no human remains. Authorities found the site after they learned that police in Pflugerville, north of Austin, stopped Meza in 2022 while he was walking near the field with blood on his face.

An Austin police spokesperson said there were no updates on the possible gravesite or other unsolved homicides.

Meza’s lawyer, Russell Hunt Jr., said last week that he offered prosecutors a plea agreement of two 50-year sentences, to be served concurrently, for the killings of Lofton and Fraga.

A spokesperson for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office said prosecutors are evaluating the offer and would not comment further.

Police ‘deeply sorry’ for DNA ‘error’

Lofton, 65, was found dead in her bedroom at her home east of downtown Austin on May 9, 2019. Although the medical examiner found evidence that she may have been strangled, the cause and manner of death were listed as undetermined, according to the affidavit.

Fultz’s sister, Sonia Houston, told NBC News last year that she was baffled by the finding. Authorities provided few details about what had happened to Lofton, Houston said, and she thought her mother — who drank often and whom she had long had a troubled relationship with — may have had a fatal accident while she was drinking.

Houston said she partly based that conclusion on what she and her sister found in Lofton’s home when they were given access on May 15. There was blood in the hallway and blood on a pillow, she said. They also found what appeared to be a used condom and lube wrapped in a latex glove, she said.

“Did she get drunk and hit her head?” Houston said. “Anyone who’s been drunk, you know accidents do happen. Did she try to crawl her way into bed?”

Houston has said she did not question the police investigation more because she was focused on sorting out Lofton’s affairs and laying her to rest. Fultz, who was given up for adoption as a newborn and reconnected with her biological family in 2012, said she initially deferred to Houston on matters related to her mother’s death. 

The siblings said they had been unaware of what the arrest affidavit revealed: A sexual assault kit was used on Lofton during her autopsy, and in 2020, a DNA profile from a vaginal swab provided a match to Meza, the affidavit says.

The sisters also said they heard nothing from authorities about their mother’s death until last year, after Meza’s alleged confession — he told the detective he was responsible for the killing of a “lady” on the street where Lofton lived, according to the affidavit.

After the alleged confession, Lofton’s cause and manner of death were changed to homicide by strangulation, the affidavit says.

In a statement this month, interim Austin Police Chief Robin Henderson said the department was “deeply sorry” about the oversight linked to the DNA report. No explanation for the error was provided.

“​​We realize the impacts this has on the case itself, community and most importantly the victims and their families,” Henderson said. “As soon as the error was brought to our attention, we addressed it as quickly as we could to identify how it happened and implemented policies to avoid incidents like this from reoccurring. Since this occurrence, the Austin Police Department has added redundancies into the notification process to ensure this does not happen again.”

The officer responsible for the oversight will not face disciplinary measures, Henderson said, because state law prohibits discipline for acts that occurred more than 180 days before.

Fultz said she was furious over the announcement. The department did not alert her family to the decision before she read about it in local media, she said, adding that it appeared authorities failed to do their job after her mother’s death. (An Austin police spokesperson said the department did not alert the family before the announcement because the complaint over the DNA report came from within the department and was handled internally.)

“In a role like this where you’re supposed to protect and serve, you’re not doing that,” Fultz said. “I would suggest that they go work at McDonald’s, where you can mess up somebody’s order and not kill somebody, potentially.”

‘Who the hell is Raul Meza Jr.?’

Fultz said she had been confused by what she and her sister found in Lofton’s home on May 15, so she started recording the scene with her phone. In a Snapchat video she shared with NBC News, Fultz captured the bloody pillow and a bloodstain on Lofton’s bed. In another, she recorded the lube.

Fultz said that the district attorney’s office asked her to share the video after Meza’s arrest and that while she was searching for it late last year, she found another recording — one that she said showed her sister looking through a spiral notebook they found on Lofton’s kitchen counter. (The district attorney’s spokesperson would not comment. Fultz shared email correspondence that shows a Travis County prosecutor asking Fultz to share Snapchat video with her.)

The notebook was open to a page that appeared to be in Lofton’s handwriting, according to Fultz, which said: “I Gloria Elizabeth Lofton give permission to Raul Meza Jr to request a certificate of authority on my behalf for the purpose of,” where the line ends.

A screenshot from a video showing Gloria Lofton’s daughters discovering the note after their mother’s killing.
A screenshot from a video showing Gloria Lofton’s daughters discovering the note after their mother’s killing.Courtesy Christina Fultz

Fultz provided a time-stamped screenshot of the note, which includes a scratched-out word midsentence. Contemporaneous video Fultz shot and shared with NBC News shows her and her sister finding the note and her sister saying: “Who the hell is Raul Meza Jr.?” 

Hearing Meza’s name in December, when she found the video, “hit me like a semitruck,” Fultz said.

“I had a literal breakdown and panic attack,” she said. “I got so sick with nerves and anger and just overwhelmed.” 

Fultz said she was not sure about the note’s meaning, and authorities have not publicly identified a possible motive in Lofton’s killing. According to the affidavit, the homicide detective who spoke to Meza on May 24 said Meza claimed he was promised 25% of an inheritance that would go to Lofton’s nephew and that he would be compensated for the killing. 

The sisters have said Lofton did not have nephews. Fultz said it’s unclear whether another family member may have promised Meza money. 

Fultz shared the video with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in December, she said. The spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office would not comment.

The spokesperson for the Austin Police Department would not comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

Hunt, Meza’s lawyer, said he was unaware of the note and would not comment further.


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