death penalty news—–TEXAS

June 17


Bid to halt execution rejected—-Allegations of relationship between
judge, prosecutor raised too late, court rules.

Allegations that Charles Dean Hood was sentenced to death while his judge
and prosecutor secretly dated should not halt tonight's scheduled
execution of the convicted double murderer, Texas' highest criminal court
ruled Monday.

Hood raised the accusation of a secret relationship too late in the
appeals process to be considered, a unanimous Court of Criminal Appeals

"The Legislature has made it clear that we are not at liberty to entertain
the merits of the claim," Judge Tom Price wrote in a concurring statement
joined by 3 judges.

Last week, Hood filed two nearly identical appeals saying that then-state
DistrictJudge Verla Sue Holland, now retired, could not have provided Hood
with a fair trial while involved in a long-term intimate relationship with
then-Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell.

O'Connell, now a private lawyer, played an active role in prosecuting Hood
at his 1990 trial.

In his latest appeals, Hood argued that Holland had a duty to step aside
or inform defense lawyers about the potential conflict of interest.

The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected 1 appeal, known as a petition for a
writ of habeas corpus, citing problems with the appellate lawyers'

The second appeal was rejected because Texas law limits death row inmates
to one habeas petition unless lawyers uncover new information that was not
previously available.

Gregory Wiercioch, Hood's appellate lawyer, criticized the court for
dismissing the claims "on 2 very hyper-technical procedural grounds."

"The court is not grappling with the merits of the claim. They are not
discussing whether or not the relationship existed, and if it did exist,
what the impact of it was in Judge Holland's ability to remain impartial,"
Wiercioch said.

Holland was on the Court of Criminal Appeals from 1997 to 2001 and served
with 8 of the 9 current judges. All 9 judges took part in Monday's

The court's unsigned opinion did not elaborate on reasons for denying the
appeals, but Price's concurring statement said Hood should have raised
allegations of the relationship in his first habeas petition, filed in

Hood's lawyers hired a private investigator who tried, unsuccessfully, to
track down rumors of the Holland-O'Connell relationship in the mid-1990s.
Hood's latest appeals said lawyers did not want to repeat unsubstantiated
rumors in court documents and only raised the issue after obtaining an
affidavit from a former assistant district attorney, Matthew Goeller, on
June 3.

Goeller's sworn statement said the Holland-O'Connell relationship was
"common knowledge" in the prosecutor's office when Hood was convicted and
sentenced to death.

But Price said Goeller's statement did not qualify as new information
because lawyers knew about the relationship rumors in the 1990s.

Price's statement was joined by Judges Cathy Cochran, Charles Holcomb and
Cheryl Johnson.

Wiercioch said he will refile one appeal today with the lawyers'
signatures corrected in hopes that the court will consider the merits of
its relationship argument. But he also will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to
halt tonight's execution based on allegations of the Holland-O'Connell

Hood was sentenced to die in the 1989 shooting deaths of his boss, Ronald
Williamson, and Williamson's girlfriend Tracie Wallace in their Plano

Hood's bloody fingerprints were found inside the home.

When he was arrested a day after the killings, in Indiana, Hood had the
victims' car, clothes, jewelry, camera and credit cards.

(source: Austin American-Statesman)