I hope Elmore Leonard sees this
Ed here: Salon has been running a series of articles about various injustices in our system of criminal justices. This one staggered me. This is straight out of an Elmore Leonard novel.
Ardor in the court, Part 3
A Texas court affirms the right of a judge and a prosecutor who slept together to condemn a man to death
By Alan Berlow
Editor's note: Read Part 1 and Part 2 of "Ardor in the Court."
Sep. 21, 2009 |
If anyone had any doubt that the Texas justice system operates in a parallel universe, look no further than the latest decision by the state's highest court in the case of death-row inmate Charles Dean Hood. On Wednesday the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) said it wasn't interested in examining whether there was a conflict of interest in Hood's 1990 trial simply because District Attorney Thomas S. O'Connell Jr., Hood's prosecutor, had had a long-term sexual relationship with presiding Judge Verla Sue Holland, an affair the two tried to hide for 20 years.
In 1989, Hood was convicted of murdering Ronald Williamson and Tracie Lynn Wallace. The Holland-O'Connell affair was first reported by Salon in 2005, quoting anonymous sources. Judge Holland refused to either confirm or deny the affair at the time. A year ago this month, Holland and D.A. O'Connell, both since retired, acknowledged under oath that they had had a long-term sexual relationship, which was never revealed during more than a decade of appeals by Hood's lawyers. In her defense, Judge Holland said the affair ended more than two years before Hood's trial. But O'Connell also testified that the two had discussed marriage, and recalled that the affair continued as late as mid-1989 -- just before Hood's trial. He said the two continued to have a "good relationship," sans sex, during and after the trial. He said the two took a trip together in 1991.
Rather than address the affair directly, the CCA ruled 6-3 on a technical question, concluding that Hood should have raised the issue at his original trial. But Hood's lawyers couldn't prove the widespread rumors of the affair before Hood's trial. The CCA had earlier criticized Hood for failing to present any "personal knowledge" of the affair, a virtually impossible hurdle given that, as far as we know, there were no witnesses to the lovemaking other than the two principals, no Paris Hilton-style video, and the judge and her boyfriend weren't talking. The CCA also said Hood's claims were based on "rumor," not fact. But when Hood's lawyers were able to present the detailed facts of the affair, based on the confessions of the principals, the CCA said it was not interested in these facts.
Needless to say, some people have found the behavior of the since-retired judge and prosecutor, and that of the CCA, since Judge Holland was once a member of the very panel weighing her actions, more than a little unsavory. A score of legal ethicists concluded that the participation of the two at Hood's trial was unethical, unprofessional and unconstitutional, and the legal basis for a new trial self-evident. Hood's lawyers insist the affair rendered the conviction and death sentence invalid. Now they will have to convince a federal court that Hood has a right to a new trial.
Andrea Keilen, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, which represents Hood, said, "No one would want to be prosecuted for a parking violation -- let alone for capital murder -- by a district attorney who is sleeping with the judge. Yet the Court of Criminal Appeals is unmoved. We are outraged by this breakdown in the integrity of the justice system." John Rolater, an assistant district attorney for Collin County, which is pursuing the case against Hood, called the CCA ruling "a significant procedural victory."
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