death penalty news—–TEXAS

June 17

TEXAS—-impending execution

Texas death row inmate set to die for Plano murders after appeal denied

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied an appeal Monday afternoon from
death row inmate Charles Dean Hood, who said his sentence should be set
aside because there were rumors the judge in his case was romantically
involved with the district attorney.

Charles Dean Hood Judges denied the appeal on procedural grounds, not the
merit of the issue, without dissent, saying it was an abuse of the system
because it had not been raised earlier.

Mr. Hood, 38, who was convicted in the 1989 murders of Ronald Williamson
and Tracie Lynn Wallace in Plano, is scheduled for execution this evening.

"I'm flabbergasted," said David Dow, director of litigation for the Texas
Defender Service, which is helping with Mr. Hood's case.

"I'm never confident in these cases, but I was confident we were going to
get a stay based on this claim," he said. "It's the most appalling sort of
relationship between a judge and a prosecutor that's imaginable."

John Rolater, assistant district attorney for Collin County, declined to
comment because "it is a matter of pending litigation."

Mr. Hood's appeal alleged that Judge Sue Holland, then a district court
judge in Collin County, presided over Mr. Hood's trial while she was
involved in a long-term intimate relationship with then-district attorney
Tom O'Connell.

Mr. O'Connell was 1 of 2 prosecutors on the case.

Though rumors of the relationship had circulated for years, including in a
2005 article at, the issue had not been raised in court by Mr.
Hood's defense team until late last week.

It was introduced at that time after a former assistant district attorney
filed an affidavit saying the relationship was "common knowledge." That
former prosecutor questioned whether the relationship violated judicial

Judge Holland, who has retired, and Mr. O'Connell, who is now in private
practice, could not be reached for comment.

The Court of Criminal Appeals, where Judge Holland later served for
several years, ruled that Mr. Hood was not entitled to raise the claim
because it was "old news," Mr. Dow said.

"In one sense that's correct," he said. "It was old news in the sense that
obviously the people having the affair at the time knew they were having
it and there are other people, too. But we postponed raising this claim
until we had some credible third-party assertion rather than just rumor
and innuendo. … I just think that's a very peculiar and really unsound
basis for denying this claim."

In addition to denying the appeal on the basis of no new evidence, the
court noted that the Defender Service was not listed as Mr. Hood's lead
attorney, so another motion raising the same issue was not acted upon.

Greg Wiercioch, a staff attorney with the Texas Defender Service, said he
planned to refile today and hoped the court would then address the merits
of the case.

If the court still refuses to take it up, Mr. Hood's attorneys hope Gov.
Rick Perry will step in by ordering a 30-day reprieve. If that effort
fails, attorneys hope to find an avenue into federal court.

Last fall, the Court of Criminal Appeals was criticized harshly nationwide
when Chief Justice Sharon Keller declined to keep the court open past 5
o'clock so attorneys having technological difficulties could file a
last-minute appeal.

The condemned man, Michael Richard, was executed even though the U.S.
Supreme Court had agreed earlier that day to hear a Kentucky case on
whether lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment.

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Stay the execution of Charles Dean Hood

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals failed to uphold the integrity of the
justice system yesterday by refusing to stay the execution of murderer
Charles Dean Hood.

There is no hint that Mr. Hood is innocent of the grisly double slaying in
Plano that he was convicted of 18 years ago. Rather, the issue is whether
anyone should be tried in a Texas court that resembles a stacked deck.

Questions have been raised about the impartiality of the trial judge, Sue
Holland, because of a hush-hush romantic involvement she purportedly was
having with the district attorney at the time, Tom O'Connell. Mr.
O'Connell was active in the trial, questioning witnesses and delivering
part of the closing arguments.

If he did so in front of his secret lover, it would not only offend the
sense of fair play, it would appear to offend the Texas Constitution.
Article 5, Section 11 offers protections against court proceedings in
which a lawyer has things wired with the judge. It says:

No judge shall sit in any case wherein the judge may be interested, or
where either of the parties may be connected with the judge, either by
affinity or consanguinity.

In petitioning the appeals court last week, Mr. Hood's attorneys offered
only innuendo about, not proof of, a secret affair. Nor did they provide
proof that a close relationship affected the judge's decision-making.

But considering the gravity of the charges, the appeals court was
duty-bound to stay Mr. Hood's execution today in Huntsville and to sort
out the facts.

The case involves the ghastly slayings of Ronald Williamson and Tracie
Lynn Wallace. They must not be forgotten, and their loved ones deserve
swift resolution of the killer's fate. The execution date has been
postponed before. To some, another delay might have seemed like a cruel

But public confidence in the justice system is essential. The appeals
court needed to send a signal that Texas courts demand the highest
standards when people's lives are at stake. It's beyond disappointing that
wasn't the case.

(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)



The Texas Civil Rights Project today joined renewed calls to the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals and to the U.S. Supreme Court to grant a new
trial — and to the Governor to grant a 30-day reprieve — to death-row
inmate Charles Dean Hood, because of the recently disclosed romantic
relationship between the trial judge Sue Holland and the prosecuting
district attorney Tom O'Connell at the time. Hood is scheduled to be
executed this evening.

"Texas has more than its share of questionable conduct in its appetite to
sentence people to death, and this previously undisclosed intimate
relationship between the trial judge and prosecutor drops to new depths,"
said TCRP Director Jim Harrington.

"Not only did the judge and prosecutor not disclose this to the defense
attorneys or the judge recuse herself, as the rules of professional
conduct require, but they both deliberately hid this information. Their
deception casts irrefutable doubt on the integrity of the trial. They
preferred to hide their embarrassment and risk a man be sentenced to
death. How could there possibly be a fair trial under those circumstances?
It is grossly unconscionable to offer up a person's life to protect a
secret affair," said Harrington.

This is not the first time the Texas Civil Rights Project has called into
question judicial misconduct regarding capital punishment. TCRP has filed
a federal lawsuit against Presiding Judge Sharon Keller of the Court of
Criminal Appeals for closing the courthouse doors on September 24, 2008,
which prevented the last minute appeal Michael Richard in light of a
ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that morning. Richard was then executed.

Subsequently, TCRP helped organize a successful effort, supported by more
than 325 influential and respected attorneys in Texas, to convince the
Court of Criminal Appeals to accept e-filed pleadings in death penalty

Today's edition of the Austin American-Statesman reports that the judge
who presided over Hood's trial, "was on the Court of Criminal Appeals from
1997 to 2001 and served with eight of the nine current judges." In a
Monday decision denying a new trial for Brooks, all nine judges took part.

In early June, TCRP praised the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for the
long overdue creation of a 'Criminal Justice Integrity Unit,' to make
recommendations — and hopefully changes — to reform the state's criminal
justice system.


Nation's Leading Legal Ethicists Say Court Must Stay Hood's Execution
Texas and National Ethics Experts Say Judge's Affair with District
Attorney Makes Death Sentence Null and Void

10 of the nation's leading experts on legal ethics filed a statement with
the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas today testifying that the romantic
relationship between the district attorney and the judge presiding over
Charles Dean Hood's capital trial and sentence renders the proceedings
"invalid per se." Mr. Hood is scheduled for execution today, unless the
Court or Governor Rick Perry grants a stay. The statement was also filed
as an addendum to the reprieve request with the Governor's office today.

The statement of Hofstra University Law School Professor Monroe H.
Freedman was endorsed by 9 legal ethics scholars and attorneys from Texas
and around the country. It states:

"An impartial judge is an essential component of the American adversary
system. If a judge's impartiality is subject to reasonable question, there
is a "structural defect" in the trial, meaning that vacation of the
conviction is required."

Freedman, a nationally-renowned expert on judicial ethics, is the author
of the 2 seminal books on legal ethics that are required reading in the
nation's law schools, including Understanding Lawyers' Ethics (2004).

The legal ethics scholars and attorneys who endorsed Prof. Freedman's
opinion that Mr. Hood's sentence must be stayed, include a former chair of
the ABA Ethics Committee, law professors who have authored dozens of
articles and books on legal ethics, and a Texas ethicist who served on the
committee that drafted the "Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional

"Texans are fair. They will not stand for a man's execution when the judge
and the prosecutor were in a romantic relationship or there was even an
appearance of bias," said Andrea Keilen, executive director of Texas
Defender Service. "The U.S. and Texas constitutions guarantee an unbiased
judge, and Mr. Hood was denied that fundamental right."

On June 3, 2008, Matthew Goeller, who was an assistant district attorney
in the Collin County District Attorney's Office from 1987 to 1996 filed an
affidavit testifying that "[i]t was common knowledge" that Judge Verla Sue
Holland and District Attorney Tom O'Connell "had a romantic relationship"
for several years, including the time of Mr. Hood's trial and death

(source: Texas Civil Rights Project)


Defendant testifies that others held, killed Dallas restaurateur

Edgar "Richie" Acevedo told jurors Monday that he neither kidnapped nor
killed Dallas restaurateur Oscar Sanchez.

Mr. Acevedo testified during his capital murder trial that his roommate
and a stranger brought Mr. Sanchez to their Duncanville house, beat him
and killed him in January 2005. Then, Mr. Acevedo, 28, said, he was
kidnapped by the men and forced to flee to Mexico.

Through an interpreter, Mr. Acevedo said his roommate, Jose Felix, and the
other man dressed in black walked into the house and dragged Mr.
Sanchez, 30, into Mr. Acevedo's bedroom.

"They brought a man in and had his face covered," Mr. Acevedo said. "I
thought it was a joke or something. But I saw they had weapons."

Mr. Acevedo said that when they came into the house, the unidentified man
took him to another room and tied him up.

From there, he said, he heard noises that sounded like someone was being
beaten and heard Mr. Sanchez scream.

When he was taken back to see Mr. Sanchez, the restaurant owner's face was
uncovered and his head was bloody, Mr. Acevedo testified. He was ordered
to bind Mr. Sanchez's hands, he said.

Then the other man took Mr. Acevedo out of the room, and he heard
gunshots, Mr. Acevedo testified.

The men then blindfolded and bound Mr. Acevedo and forced him into the
back of a truck, he said.

They drove to another house where Mr. Acevedo said Mr. Felix threatened to
kill his sister if he didn't do what he said.

"He said, 'If you don't obey me, you don't love your sister,' " Mr.
Acevedo said. "I was sure at that moment he would do it. I was very
scared. I knew he could do something to my family, basically my sister."

The two drove to Chicago, where Mr. Acevedo's sister, Gabriela Acevedo,

Mr. Acevedo was the first to leave, catching a flight to Guadalajara,
Mexico, the next day.

Mr. Felix tried to catch a flight a day later but was arrested at the
airport. Mr. Acevedo was arrested in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in October

Mr. Felix was convicted in September of capital murder in Mr. Sanchez's
death and sentenced to life in prison.

During Mr. Felix's trial, his defense team placed the blame for the
kidnapping and murder on Mr. Acevedo.

Both sides rested their cases Monday in Mr. Acevedo's trial, and closing
arguments are scheduled to begin this morning.

Before resting Monday, prosecutor Fred Burns questioned Mr. Acevedo about
why the killers would show him their faces, then keep him alive after
killing Mr. Sanchez.

"They let the witness, who could put them on death row, walk out? They let
you get on a plane by yourself?" Mr. Burns asked.

A seemingly frustrated Mr. Acevedo huffed a bit and replied, "I'm telling
you, that I'm telling you what happened."

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Killer of Kennewick college student eludes death penalty for 3rd time

A Kennewick woman who has spent the past 33 years grieving her son's
murder and praying for his killer's execution was devastated to learn…

A Kennewick woman who has spent the past 33 years grieving her son's
murder and praying for his killer's execution was devastated to learn
Monday that the man who beat and shot her son has eluded the death penalty
for the third time.

Bennie McMahan, 84, said she is frustrated that the state of Texas has
executed more than 400 people since Michael McMahan's April 1975 slaying,
while his killer, Ronald Chambers, has become the longest-serving prisoner
on Texas' death row.

"It seems to me he's getting all the benefits and Mike didn't get any,"
McMahan said. "We have already been through three trials, we don't know
how much more we can take."

On Monday, the Texas Supreme Court declined without comment to review a
federal appeals-court's decision to send the case back to a Dallas trial
court because questions used by jurors to decide his death sentence were

"The next step is for Dallas County to decide what to do, whether they
will retry him, have a reduced sentence or a plea bargain," said Michael
McMahan's sister, Janna McMahan, 51, of West Richland.

Chambers, 53, who arrived on Texas' death row on Jan. 8, 1976, 3 days
before his 21st birthday, has now seen his conviction and death sentence
overturned 3 times.

"We're pretty disappointed, but we prepared for the worst," Janna McMahan
said. "My mom is 84 years old and it's hard on her. We just lost my father
in October and this compounded everything."

The case wound up before the state Supreme Court after the Texas Attorney
General's Office had appealed an appellate-court ruling involving jury
instructions given to other condemned Texas prisoners. In April 2007, the
Texas Supreme Court ruled that jurors in three cases were not allowed to
give sufficient weight to factors that might cause them to impose a life
sentence other than death.

Chambers' first conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals because a state-appointed psychiatrist who questioned him failed
to warn Chambers that his responses would be used against him.

He was retried in 1985 and convicted and again sentenced to die. The
Supreme Court threw out that conviction 4 years later, ruling prosecutors
improperly excluded three black people from his jury. Chambers is black.

In January 2007, Chambers was set to die for the punishment reached at his
third trial. The lethal injection, however, was stopped until the justices
ruled on the cases of the 3 other inmates who were challenging the jury

"I hoped there would have been an execution back when it was scheduled,"
Janna McMahan said. "Not that I relish in somebody dying, but that's his
punishment. My brother certainly didn't want to die."

On the night of April 11, 1975, Michael McMahan, 22, a student at Texas
Tech University, was leaving a Dallas nightclub with classmate Deia Sutton
when they were kidnapped from the parking lot by Chambers and his friend,
Clarence Williams.

McMahan and Sutton were driven to a levee on the Trinity River and pushed
down an embankment. Chambers fired five shots at them, then bludgeoned
McMahan in the head with the barrel of the shotgun. Williams choked Sutton
and tried to drown her; Chambers also beat her with the shotgun. Sutton
survived the attack.

Williams pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and murder and received two
life sentences and remains in prison. Janna McMahan said that when
Williams' case is reviewed by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles every
few years her family fights to have him remain behind bars.

"You put your trust in the justice system and put your faith in them to do
what's right. It hasn't worked yet," Janna McMahan said.

Michael McMahan was a Kennewick High School graduate who loved tennis and
dreamed of following in his father's footsteps by earning a degree in
mechanical engineering from Texas Tech, his sister said.

(source: Seattle Times)


The longest-serving prisoner on Texas' death row won a U.S. Supreme Court
ruling Monday that his case must go back to his trial court in Dallas.

Ronald Chambers, 53, has been on death row for 32 years, sent there in
1976 for the abduction and fatal shooting of 22-year-old Mike McMahan, a
Texas Tech University student from Washington state.

Without comment, the high court declined to review a federal appeals
court's decision to send back Mr. Chambers' case because questions used by
jurors to decide his death sentence were improper.

The Texas attorney general's office had appealed a ruling from the 5th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was based on a Supreme Court decision
last year involving jury instructions given to three other condemned Texas
prisoners. The same questions no longer used given in those cases were
part of the instructions used by the jury in Mr. Chambers' case.

Dallas County prosecutors will have to decide whether to seek the death
penalty at a new punishment trial.

(source: Associated Press)