Texas Death Row case might be right on the law but it doesnt seem fair
The case of In re Charles Dean Hood could only have come from a convoluted
TV script except that it came straight out of the Texas courts.
Ronald Williamson and his girlfriend Tracie Lynn Wallace are found fatally
shot at his Plano home. Police track his $70,000 Cadillac to Indiana,
driven there by the 20-year-old Hood, a bouncer who had been living with
Williamson. Hood claims innocence, but his bloody fingerprints were found
in the house.
Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell argues for the death
penalty, and jurors in Judge Verla Sue Holland's 296th District Court
Just as the state of Texas prepares to execute Hood 18 years later, his
lawyers furiously try to convince the courts that he was denied a fair
trial because, they argue, Holland and O'Connell were lovers and never
told anyone involved in the case.
During the legal maneuvering, the state runs out of time to conduct the
June 17 execution, and Gov. Rick Perry gives Hood a 30-day reprieve.
If the 2 were, in fact, cavorting behind the scenes during a trial in
which both played key roles, Holland and O'Connell abdicated their ethical
duties as officers of the court and undermined the integrity of the
judicial system. But thats not the only factor that the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals had to consider when it turned down Hoods petition
seeking a new hearing.
Texas law bars a criminal defendant filing repeated constitutional
challenges to a conviction except under narrow circumstances. To get over
that hurdle this late in the process, Hood would have to show that his
claim about the amorous relationship couldnt have been raised earlier or
that "no rational juror" would have found him guilty if Holland had
recused herself from his trial.
But Hoods lawyers knew of suspicions about the judge and the prosecutor
years ago, well before they documented the claim this month with an
affidavit from a former prosecutor who called the relationship "common
knowledge" at the time.
An investigator who looked into the allegation in the mid-1990s wrote in a
separate affidavit that numerous lawyers in Collin County seemed to know
but wouldn't go on the record because they had to practice law in the
county. The investigator wrote that a paralegal for one of Hood's trial
lawyers said his attorneys didn't bring it up to avoid angering a judge
they'd have to appear before in other cases. Writer Alan Berlow also
raised the allegations on Salon.com in 2005.
It would take a hearing to establish whether the alleged relationship
occurred. But the law doesn't clearly provide for it unless it lies
within the parameters of basic due process. Hood might well be guilty of a
horrible crime, but if hed didn't get a fair trial before an impartial
tribunal, how can the public have confidence in the system?
Texas really doesn't need another of these self-inflicted black eyes.
(source: Editorial, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)