Texas Death Row case might be right on the law — but.....

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Texas Death Row case might be right on the law — but.....

Post  Jennie on Sat Jun 21, 2008 10:07 pm

Texas Death Row case might be right on the law — but it doesn’t seem fair

The case of In re Charles Dean Hood could only have come from a convoluted TV script — except that it came straight out of the Texas courts.

Ronald Williamson and his girlfriend Tracie Lynn Wallace are found fatally shot at his Plano home. Police track his $70,000 Cadillac to Indiana, driven there by the 20-year-old Hood, a bouncer who had been living with Williamson. Hood claims innocence, but his bloody fingerprints were found in the house.

Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell argues for the death penalty, and jurors in Judge Verla Sue Holland's 296th District Court agree.

Just as the state of Texas prepares to execute Hood 18 years later, his lawyers furiously try to convince the courts that he was denied a fair trial because, they argue, Holland and O'Connell were lovers and never told anyone involved in the case.

During the legal maneuvering, the state runs out of time to conduct the June 17 execution, and Gov. Rick Perry gives Hood a 30-day reprieve.

Now what?

If the 2 were, in fact, cavorting behind the scenes during a trial in which both played key roles, Holland and O'Connell abdicated their ethical duties as officers of the court and undermined the integrity of the judicial system. But that’s not the only factor that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had to consider when it turned down Hood’s petition seeking a new hearing.

Texas law bars a criminal defendant filing repeated constitutional challenges to a conviction except under narrow circumstances. To get over that hurdle this late in the process, Hood would have to show that his claim about the amorous relationship couldn’t have been raised earlier or that "no rational juror" would have found him guilty if Holland had recused herself from his trial.

But Hood’s lawyers knew of suspicions about the judge and the prosecutor years ago, well before they documented the claim this month with an affidavit from a former prosecutor who called the relationship "common knowledge" at the time.

An investigator who looked into the allegation in the mid-1990s wrote in a separate affidavit that numerous lawyers in Collin County seemed to know but wouldn't go on the record because they had to practice law in the county. The investigator wrote that a paralegal for one of Hood's trial lawyers said his attorneys didn't bring it up to avoid angering a judge they'd have to appear before in other cases. Writer Alan Berlow also raised the allegations on Salon.com in 2005.

It would take a hearing to establish whether the alleged relationship occurred. But the law doesn't clearly provide for it — unless it lies within the parameters of basic due process. Hood might well be guilty of a horrible crime, but if he’d didn't get a fair trial before an impartial tribunal, how can the public have confidence in the system?

Texas really doesn't need another of these self-inflicted black eyes.

(source: Editorial, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

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