Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hood Gets Stay; Judge, DA Admit Affair

From The Houston Chronicle

A Texas death row inmate whose lawyers argued a secret romantic relationship between the judge and prosecutor at his trial tainted the proceedings 19 years ago won a reprieve Tuesday from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that blocked his lethal injection set for the following day.

The state's highest criminal court, however, stopped Charles Dean Hood's execution not because of the alleged affair between retired Judge Verla Sue Holland and former Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell, but because of what it said were "developments in the law regarding (jury) nullification instructions."

The Austin-based court, where Holland once served as a judge after her stint as a district judge in the suburban Dallas county, said it would be "prudent to reconsider the decision we issued" in previously dismissing Hood's appeal that challenged jury instructions.

At the same time, the court dismissed claims Hood's attorneys filed that he was denied a fair trial because of what would be a legally unethical relationship between Holland and O'Connell and arguments that Hood's execution set for Wednesday would twice put his life in jeopardy.

On June 17, lengthy appeals that also focused on the romantic relationship cleared the courts but Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials scrapped the execution because they ran out of time to properly carry it out as the midnight deadline approached.

The court's reprieve also came almost simultaneously as Hood's lawyers sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, whom they had asked for a 30-day reprieve, in which they said Holland and O'Connell "admitted under oath that they had an intimate sexual relationship for many years."

Holland was deposed earlier Tuesday under a court order Hood's attorneys won on Monday. O'Connell was deposed late Monday.

"The intimate sexual relationship between the judge and the district attorney began several years prior to the trial of Mr. Hood," lawyer Greg Wiercioch said in his letter to the governor re-emphasizing his petition for a reprieve.

"While Mr. O'Connell and Judge Holland have different recollections as to when the affair ceased containing an intimate sexual component, there is no doubt that the relationship was sexual in the years immediately leading up to the time that Judge Holland had jurisdiction over the case."

Wiercioch said the pair confirmed they kept the relationship secret.

"She never disclosed it to a single litigant or lawyer who appeared before her, and she never recused herself from hearing a single case because of her affair with the elected district attorney," the lawyer wrote. "Similarly, Mr. O'Connell never disclosed the romantic relationship to any of his adversaries nor did he recuse himself or his office from prosecuting a single case because of his affair with Judge Holland."

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