death penalty news—-TEXAS

June 13


Killer's new execution date is July 23

Condemned double killer Derrick Juan Sonnier, who was spared from death
last week by a last-minute court reprieve, has been scheduled to die by
injection July 23.

State District Judge Michael Wilkinson signed a court document Friday
resetting Sonnier's execution date, said Roe Wilson, a Harris County
assistant district attorney.

Sonnier was set to die by injection June 3 when the Court of Criminal
Appeals granted a stay of execution following 11th-hour appeals. The next
week, the court rejected his appeals.

His 1st execution date was waived to await a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in
a Kentucky case that questioned the constitutionality of the lethal
injection process. In April, the high court upheld the practice.

Sonnier was sentenced to die for the 1991 murders of single mother Melody
Flowers, 27, and her son Patrick, who was 2.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Convicted killer of mom and child gets new death date

Convicted killer Derrick Sonnier, spared a trip to the Texas death chamber
a week ago by a late reprieve from the state's top criminal court, was
reset on Friday to die July 23.

Sonnier's lethal injection June 3 was blocked by the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals about 90 minutes before he was scheduled to die for the
1991 slayings of a suburban Houston woman and her 2-year-old son.

Attorneys for Sonnier, 40, cited then-unresolved cases before the appeals
court that had raised questions about the constitutionality of lethal
injection procedures used by Texas Department of Criminal Justice
officials at a Huntsville prison.

The court this week rejected appeals in those cases and lifted the
reprieve given to Sonnier, clearing the way for executions to continue in
the state.

Texas on Wednesday evening carried out its 1st execution in nearly 9
months. Similar arguments brought by 2 condemned Kentucky inmates to the
U.S. Supreme Court had halted all executions in the nation from last
September, when the high court agreed to consider their appeal. The
justices rejected the appeal in mid-April.

With Sonnier's reprieve dissolved, Harris County prosecutors on Friday
obtained the new execution date from State District Judge Michael

Sonnier is among at least 13 Texas inmates with execution dates in the
coming months, including one next week and now 4 for next month. Last year
26 convicted killers were put to death in Texas, the most of any state.

Sonnier was condemned for the fatal shootings of Melody Flowers, 27, and
her son, Patrick, at their apartment in the Houston suburb of Humble.
Flowers had been stabbed, beaten with a hammer and strangled. Her child
was stabbed eight times. Both were found floating in a bathtub.

Sonnier initially was scheduled to die in February. That execution date,
however, was withdrawn by prosecutors pending the outcome of the Kentucky
case before the Supreme Court.

(source: The Associated Press)


Attorneys seek reversal of execution, saying judge and district attorney
were romantically involved

In the 18 years since Charles Dean Hood was condemned for a double murder
in Collin County, his execution has been scheduled five times including
next Tuesday. On Thursday, his attorneys filed an unusual appeal, claiming
Mr. Hood's conviction should be reversed, alleging the trial judge was
intimately involved with the district attorney, creating an appearance of

"It's very serious," said Mr. Hood's attorney, Greg Wiercioch of the Texas
Defender Service. "It's not a delaying tactic."

Mr. Hood's attorneys don't point to any specific impact on the case, but
they say the impression of possible bias was unfair. Collin County
prosecutors declined to comment, but a prosecution expert says the defense
must prove actual damage to the case and not rely on mere "rumors."

The former judge, Sue Holland, did not return calls for comment. Neither
did the former prosecutor, Tom O'Connell.

Rumors about a romantic relationship between the two have circulated for
years, including in a article in 2005. But Mr. Wiercioch says
the issue is being raised officially for the first time five days before
Mr. Hood's scheduled execution because a former assistant district
attorney filed an affidavit about the alleged conflict.

The former prosecutor, Matthew Goeller, said in an affidavit filed with
the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that the relationship was "common
knowledge" and casts "a reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act

Mr. Goeller, who worked at the district attorney's office from 1987-96,
and is now in private practice, could not be reached for comment.

"We had tried to get information that went beyond just speculation," Mr.
Wiercioch said. "This is the first time that we were able to get somebody
from the district attorney's office, who worked in that office with
District Attorney Tom O'Connell, who was in that office at the time
Charles Hood's trial took place, somebody who's obviously very credible."

John Rolater, assistant district attorney for Collin County, declined to
comment on the case, citing the pending litigation.

But Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County
Attorneys Association, said the appeal with Mr. Goeller's affidavit "sure
sounds like a 'Hail Mary' to me."

"Mr. Goeller said what everyone else did … there are rumors of a
romantic relationship," Mr. Kepple said. "He doesn't say 'firsthand
knowledge.' He doesn't say 'I saw it' or 'I know it's true.' All he says
is 'It's common knowledge.'… I don't think that's very impressive."

The appeal is pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals where
Judge Holland served for several years after leaving the district court in
Collin County. She retired in 2001. Mr. O'Connell left the district
attorney's post after 30 years in 2002.

Robert Schuwerk, professor at the University of Houston Law Center and
co-author of a book on legal ethics, said the allegations, if true, are
serious. But removing a judge at trial is easier than winning a reversal.
On appeal, judges generally look for actual bias rather than just the
appearance of impropriety, he said.

The impact of an affidavit from a former prosecutor is "somewhat damning,"
he said. And it may be enough "to get you to the intermediate ground of
saying, 'This needs to be looked into.' "

Mr. Hood, now 38, was convicted in 1990 of robbing and shooting Ronald
Williamson and his girlfriend, Tracie Lynn Wallace, at Mr. Williamson's
home in Plano in 1989. Mr. Hood was living at the house and working for
Mr. Williamson at the time.

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Texas Inmate Says Judge and Prosecutor Had Affair

Lawyers for a Texas inmate facing execution next week filed court papers
on Thursday accusing the judge at his double-murder trial of having an
affair with the prosecutor.

The papers, filed in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, argue that the
relationship between the judge, Verla Sue Holland, and the man who was
district attorney of Collin County, Tom O'Connell, should nullify the
conviction of the inmate, Charles Hood, in 1990.

The filing says that Judge Holland had a "personal and direct interest in
the outcome of the case" and that "the wall of silence that has long
protected Judge Holland must now come down."

"Under these circumstances," Gregory Wiercioch, Mr. Hoods lead lawyer,
said in an interview, "Judge Holland had a clear duty to let the parties
know about her relationship and to recuse herself, because anybody knowing
these facts would be shocked that she presided over this capital murder

Neither Mr. O'Connell, 66, who has practiced law in Plano after retiring
as a prosecutor in 2001, nor Ms. Holland, also 66, responded to phone

The petitions include an affidavit from a former assistant district
attorney, Matthew Goeller, who said that the 6-year relationship between
Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell was "common knowledge" and that it raised
"reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially."

The relationship was reported by in 2005.

Mr. Goeller was past president of the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
in Collin County, near Dallas, and a former director of the Collin County
Bar Association. He is currently out of the country, Mr. Hood's other
lawyers said.

The relationship between the judge and prosecutor, Mr. Hood's lawyers
said, violated his right to a fair trial under the United States and Texas
Constitutions. The Texas Constitution says that the judiciary must be
extremely diligent in avoiding any appearance of impropriety and must hold
itself to exacting standards lest it lose its legitimacy and suffer a loss
of public confidence."

Mr. Hood's lawyers also filed an amendment on Thursday to a reprieve
request with Gov. Rick Perry.

Judge Holland was on the Criminal Court of Appeals from 1997 to 2001, not
completing her full 6-year term. At least 7 of the 9 current judges who
will decide Mr. Hood's case served with her. Mr. Hood was convicted in the
murders in 1989 of his supervisor, Ronald Williamson, and Mr. Williamson's
girlfriend, Traci L. Wallace. They were found shot to death in Mr.
Williamson's house in Plano.

Shortly after the killings, Mr. Hood was arrested with some belongings of
Mr. Williamson. He pleaded not guilty and continues to maintain his

His execution is scheduled for Tuesday.

(source: New York Times)