Texas state courts have halted the executions of two condemned prisoners who had been facing imminent execution dates. On October 4, 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed the October 10 execution of Randy Halprin (pictured, left) and directed a Dallas trial court to consider his claim that the religious bigotry of the judge who presided over his case denied him a fair trial before an impartial tribunal. The previous day, a Henderson County District Court judge withdrew the death warrant that had scheduled Randall Mays (pictured, right) to die on October 16, amid concerns that Mays may be mentally incompetent.

The twin rulings were a dramatic development in the continuing saga involving the Lone Star State’s efforts to execute thirteen prisoners in the last five months of 2019. A DPIC analysis of those cases found that they raised troubling questions of innocence, significantly flawed legal proceedings, junk science, and diminished culpability arising from one or more of mental illness, intellectual disability, youthfulness, and chronic exposure to trauma.

Supported by a coalition of national and local Jewish organizations, Halprin, who is Jewish, filed petitions in the state and federal courts seeking a stay of execution and a new trial based upon recently discovered evidence of his trial judge’s virulently anti-Semitic statements and beliefs. He supported his claim with affidavits from court personnel who said that his trial judge, Vickers Cunningham, disparaged Halprin as “a f***in’ Jew” and “g**damn k**e,” and made racist comments about his Latino co-defendants. One court employee said Cunningham had bragged that, during their trial, “[f]rom the w**back to the Jew, they knew they were going to die.”

Halprin’s defense team began investigating Cunningham’s possible anti-Semitic bias after learning from a report in The Dallas Morning News in 2018 that Cunningham had put provisions in his will that conditioned his children’s inheritance upon marrying a straight, white Christian. Halprin’s current counsel, assistant federal defender Tivon Schardl, praised the state court’s decision, as “a signal that bigotry and bias are unacceptable in the criminal justice system.” “A fair trial requires an impartial judge, and Mr. Halprin did not have a fair and neutral judge when his life was at stake,” Schardl said.

Mays’ death warrant was withdrawn by Henderson County District Judge Joe Clayton after defense lawyers moved to have May declared incompetent to be executed. The defense motion said that prison mental health personnel had recently diagnosed Mays with schizophrenia and prescribed him anti-psychotic medication. A forensic psychiatrist reported that Mays’ mental health condition has deteriorated, that he is increasingly delusional and incoherent, and that he claims the prison guards are poisoning the air vents in his cell.

Mays was convicted and sentenced to death for killing two county sheriff’s deputies. The competency pleading says he believes he is to be executed because he has designed a process for creating renewable energy that threatens the interests of the oil companies. Judge Clayton wrote that he withdrew the execution date so the court could have time to “properly review all medical records submitted.”