Texas Death Sentence Overturned, But Conflicts of Interest Remain

On February 24, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the death sentence of Charles Dean Hood because the jury was improperly instructed about potentially mitigating evidence at his trial. Hood’s case more recently made national news when a prior extramarital affair between the trial judge and the prosecutor was revealed. In 2008, even after the judge and the prosecutor admitted to their intimate relationship, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that Hood should be executed anyway. Hood’s attorneys have recently petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the conflict of interest in this case. Twenty-one former judges and prosecutors and 30 legal ethics experts have filed amicus briefs stating that the relationship between the judge and the prosecutor severely undermined the integrity of the proceedings. The Court has yet to act on the request, which could result in a new trial on guilt, as well as on sentencing, as now required by the Court of Criminal Appeals for other reasons.

The recent Court of Criminal Appeals decision held that jurors should have been able to fully consider Hood’s learning disabilities and a serious injury he sustained at an early age. Mark White, a former governor of Texas, said the Texas court should have focused on the broader problem of fundamental due process: “the court’s judges were ‘not shooting at the right target’ by focusing on the issue and leaving aside the question of conflicts of interest.” Hood was convicted in 1990 of fatally shooting two people he lived with in Plano.

(A. Liptak, “Questions of an Affair Tainting a Trial,” New York Times, February 22, 2010; J. Schwartz, “Death Penalty is Thrown Out In Texas Murders,” New York Times, February 24, 2010). See Arbitrariness. Read the ethicists’ amicus brief and the judges’ amicus brief.