No New Trial despite Judge-Prosecutor Affair

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on September 16 that death row inmate Charles Hood is not entitled to a new trial despite the fact that the judge and the prosecutor from his trial had been having an affair. In a 6-to-3 decision, the court held that Hood should have raised the argument that the affair tainted his trial in earlier appeals of his 1990 murder conviction. The court’s decision reverses the findings of a district court that held Hood should be given a hearing on a new trial. The case has created concerns among several former judges, prosecutors, and legal experts who have said that it is impossible to know if Hood received a fair trail. “For the state of Texas to ignore undisputed evidence of an improper relationship that violated Mr. Hood’s constitutional rights to a fair trial is inexplicable and a betrayal of justice,” said Sam D. Millsap, former district attorney in San Antonio, Texas. “It is an irrevocable wrong to put a man to death when a cloud of uncertainty and misconduct looms overhead.”

The affair had been rumored for years but was only confirmed last year when Hood’s lawyers took depositions under oath from the judge, Verla Sue Holland, and the procescutor, Thomas S. O’Connell, Jr. Hood’s lawyers said they had not been able to prove that the rumors of the affair were true until the court ordered depositions. They also noted Judge Holland had gone on to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals with all but one of the seated judges who rendered the decision. “This decision by a court where eight of the nine judges once shared the bench with Judge Holland will only add to the perception that justice is skewed in Texas,” said Andrea Keilen, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, which represents Mr. Hood.

(J. McKinley, “Judge-Prosecutor Affair, but No New Trial,” N.Y. Times, Sept. 17, 2009; Constitution Project Press Release, Sept. 16, 2009). Read NY Times article; read Constitution Project Press Release. See Arbitrariness.