A trial untainted by kiss of death
Tracie Lynn Wallace, 26, and Ronald Williamson, 46, were shot to death in
the home they shared in Plano in 1989. 19 years later, the man convicted
of killing them is still on death row and at the center of a case in which
the Texas judicial system is now on trial.
When Charles Hood, a former nightclub bouncer, was convicted of killing
the couple, the case received little notice outside of Collin County,
north of Dallas. Now, allegations that the judge who presided over the
case and the district attorney who prosecuted Hood were involved in a
romantic affair at the time of the trial once again cast the Texas justice
system in a negative light. Though the evidence in the case points to
Hoods guilt, the larger question of whether he received a fair trial is
troubling. It is a question that must be answered.
Hood received a 30-day stay of execution last week after a wild night of
legal maneuvering that kept Hood alive – not because it was justice but
because the executioner's clock ran out. As prosecutors and Hoods
appellate lawyers wrestled, the Court of Criminal Appeals went frantic in
an effort to make sure Hood was executed on Tuesday, as scheduled.
Citing insufficient time to prepare as the legal wrangling dragged on,
prison officials called off the execution just before midnight.
Though there are plenty of nuances to this case and certainly plenty of
salacious distraction, it really all boils down to whether Hood's trial
was a fair one.
Verla Sue Holland, the judge who presided over the trial, and Tom
OConnell, then the Collin County district attorney, were believed to be
involved romantically before and during the trial. Both were single.
Hood's attorneys presented a last-minute affidavit from a former Collin
County assistant district attorney who characterized the Holland-O'Connell
relationship as "common knowledge."
Anyone familiar with office gossip knows how thin "common knowledge" can
be. Yet, with a mans life at stake, the issue demands resolution. Holland
– a former judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals – and O'Connell aren't
talking. A court could compel them to answer questions, but Holland's
former colleagues on the Court of Criminal Appeals were reluctant to do
that. Instead, they hid behind procedural issues and chided the defense
lawyers for raising the 11th-hour allegation of an affair.
That's significant because there are rules and time lines that govern
raising issues on appeal. As we have noted, however, appeals courts
shouldn't hunker down in a valley of procedural technicalities and lock
out a real, imperfect and occasionally sordid world.
No doubt, answering questions about a supposed romance long ago will prove
embarrassing to Holland and O'Connell, who are no longer in public office.
But a man's life is at stake here.
Indeed, this is an issue that is larger than whether Hood is guilty or
The credibility of a state that always seems so eager to impose the death
penalty is very much on the line. The process that leads to the ultimate
sanction should be above reproach. That starts with the fundamental right
to a fair and impartial trial.
The questions raised in this troubling case deserve answers.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
Penalty phase of Albarran trial is Monday
The penalty phase of the trial for Benito Albarran, convicted of capital
murder, is scheduled to begin Monday in Madison County Circuit Court.
The mission of Albarran's defense attorneys will be to save his life, said
2 experienced trial lawyers, Mark McDaniel, who has been a defense lawyer
for his entire 30-year career, and Larry Morgan, with 34 years experience,
14 as a prosecutor.
The prosecutors in the Albarran case, Robert Broussard and Jay Town, are
seeking the death penalty. A 12-member jury convicted Albarran Thursday of
killing Huntsville police officer Daniel Golden on Aug. 29, 2005, at the
Jalisco Mexican restaurant on Jordan Lane. Golden was answering a domestic
violence call telephoned to the 911 center by Albarran's wife, Laura
Albarran pleaded not guilty to the charge of capital murder because of
insanity. His attorneys, Bruce Gardner, Richard Jaffe and Derek Drennan,
said their client was too mentally impaired to understand that he was
The jury, which deliberated less than 4 hours before convicting Albarran,
will hear more testimony from witnesses. The jurors will then deliberate
and return an advisory opinion asking Circuit Judge Karen Hall to impose a
sentence of either life in prison without parole or the death penalty. The
jurors must vote at least 10 to 2 to recommend the death penalty. Under
Alabama law, Hall can override the jury's advisory verdict.
If the jury deadlocks, the capital murder conviction still stands, but the
defense can ask for a new jury to consider mitigating and aggravating
In the penalty phase, the prosecutors present evidence of aggravating
circumstances to convince the jurors to recommend the death penalty.
Aggravating factors are any circumstances that make the death penalty
appropriate in the judgment of the jurors, Morgan said.
The law lists 10 aggravating circumstances, but the prosecutors will
immediately focus on the factor that made the crime a capital offense,
"One factor is that he killed a police officer who was on duty," he said.
The prosecutors will also argue that the crime was especially heinous,
atrocious and cruel when compared to other capital murders, Morgan said.
"They will argue that Albarran shot Golden in the lower abdomen and, while
the officer was lying on the ground with his hands up in a gesture of
surrender, Albarran shot him twice in the face," he said.
To prove the cruelty of the crime, the prosecutors will call for testimony
from experienced police investigators, McDaniel said.
"The state has to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, and that calls for
testimony from homicide investigators who have worked on a lot of capital
murders," he said.
The defense has to prove the existence of mitigating circumstances to a
reasonable degree of certainty, McDaniel said.
"There is no list of mitigating circumstances that the defense must
follow," he said. "The defense can present any circumstance that might
convince the jury to recommend a sentence of life without parole."
(source: Huntsville Item)
Why I loved a death-row inmate
A Waikato woman has spoken of falling in love with a Texan murderer and
their emotional meeting days before his execution.
Viv Mason struck up a relationship with Karl Chamberlain and flew to the
US to meet him before his death by lethal injection two weeks ago.
"We were more than friends, I actually felt like I have lost my right
arm," Ms Mason, a Morrinsville postie, told the Piako Post. "He got me, he
Ms Mason met Chamberlain on June 9, 2 days before his execution. She
describes the meeting as something "out of this world".
Her love story caught the attention of Waikato Times readers after she
placed a death notice last week.
Ms Mason, who had exchanged letters with Chamberlian for 2 years, was
photographed with him on the day he died, but did not attend the
execution. She describes the 1st time they met, when he was banging on a
prison glass wall. "I'm in here, I'm in here," he said.
"It felt amazing, it was wonderful," she said. "But at the same time it
was tinged with terror of a whole new set of circumstances.
"There were so many emotions going through, and knowing I had very little
time with him made for not exactly the meeting we had hoped for."
When the 2 meet face to face they stood looking at each other. Mr
Chamberlain said to Ms Mason "I love you".
Ms Mason said even in the worst instances Karl could turn matters around
and make them humorous.
She said her heart melted when a hand print arrived in the mail at her
"He had managed to get some paint somehow and send me this hand print,"
she said. "And I sent back 'it is amazing I love it, I love you, thank you
so much'. He came back with `wow you really love me'."
The execution took 9 minutes.
"I don't approve of the death penalty," Ms Mason said. "He is free, he is
no longer living in a little cell, and he is gone. It is everyone else
left behind that are the ultimate victims of the system."
Chamberlain raped and shot a woman 17 years ago.