death penalty news—-TEXAS

Sept. 9


Charles Dean Hood granted a stay of execution

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted a stay of execution for
Charles Dean Hood, who was set to die Wednesday for the killings of Tracie
Wallace and Ronald Williamson in 1989 in Plano.

The stay was based on an appeal filed last week that asked the court to
reconsider an issue taken up over the summer. It is not related to
revelations that the judge and prosecutor during Mr. Hood's trial have
admitted in sworn affidavits taken Monday and Tuesday that they had a
sexual relationship.

On Monday, District Judge Greg Brewer ordered that depositions be taken
from Verla Sue Holland and former Collin County district attorney Tom
O'Connell. Mr. O'Connell was deposed late Monday and Judge Holland today.
Defense attorneys for Mr. Hood argue in an appeal filed late Tuesday that
this relationship might have affected Mr. Hoods right to a fair trial.

But Tuesday's reprieve was granted over a technical issue regarding
instructions given to the original jury, and a hearing will be scheduled
on that issue.

The depositions ordered by Judge Brewer in his Collin County civil court
were the result of an unusual move by Mr. Hood's defense attorneys, who
used a civil action to force the depositions in an attempt to gain
evidence that might prompt another reason for a last-minute stay of
execution for Mr. Hood. In the depositions, Judge Holland and Mr. OConnell
admitted a sexual relationship that lasted for years but gave different
accounts of whether it was ongoing during Mr. Hood's trial.

A former Collin County assistant district attorney had previously sworn in
an affidavit that a rumor of a romance between judge and Mr. OConnell was
common knowledge.

Judge Brewer said Monday that he agreed to the depositions because he was
interested in preserving the integrity of the judicial system. He
acknowledged that if anybody had any knowledge of a romantic relationship
between the judge and prosecutor at the time of the trial, they should
have raised red flags.

Collin County Assistant District Attorney John Rolater, who has been
handling the Hood case on appeal, asked for and received permission from
the judge to have a representative witness the depositions.

Bill Boyd, Judge Holland's attorney, said before the gag order was issued
and the depositions were taken that, "She'll tell the truth on all the
questions that the judge rules relevant. I expect her to deny at all
times… that there was any relationship other than a casual relationship
with the district attorney." Mr. Boyd said he didn't think she would
discuss whether there was a relationship with Mr. O'Connell before or
after the trial because it is irrelevant.

Mr. Boyd had criticized Mr. Hood's attorneys for filing a civil action in
the case in an attempt to elicit a stay of execution from Texas Gov. Rick
Perry, or to force consideration of new appeals in a criminal court.

"This is not about getting money damages for Hood or his estate," Mr. Boyd
said of the civil action. While lauding their "creativity," Mr. Boyd noted
that the case happened 20 years ago and in all those years, "nobody has
filed a grievance between either of these 2 people."

The Collin County district attorney's office had wanted to proceed with
the execution, but the state attorney general's office has filed a brief
urging the allegations be investigated to protect the integrity of the
criminal justice system.

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Wharton residents assemble for death penalty trial—-Case is the 1st in
this small town in 3 decades

The 1st death penalty trial to occur in the small town of Wharton since
the 1970s brought an unprecedented number of residents to court Monday as
jury selection began for the capital murder trial of a man accused of
killing a game warden.

James Garrett Freeman, 27, of Lissie, could be sentenced to death if
convicted of capital murder in the slaying of Texas Parks and Wildlife
Department Game Warden Justin Hurst following a 90-minute police chase
last year.

Attorneys are summoning 1,200 Wharton County residents to the Wharton
Civic Center in the next 6 weeks an unusually large number even by
Houston's standards as they attempt to seat a jury that can fairly and
impartially weigh the case. Testimony is set to begin Oct. 20.

The trial also is likely to draw attention because it marks former Harris
County prosecutor Kelly Siegler's return to a courtroom for the first time
since her resignation earlier this year. Siegler, who was defeated in her
bid for the Harris County district attorney's job in March's Republican
primary, is assisting Wharton County District Attorney Josh McCown with
the case.

McCown and Siegler will square off against veteran defense attorney
Stanley Schneider, who, along with co-counsel Lee Cox, will try to spare
Freeman a death sentence.

Schneider has concerns about whether his client can get a fair trial in
Wharton County, a heavily rural area with a population of more than 40,000
residents, because he fears so many people there know someone connected to
the case.

Schneider had filed a change of venue motion, seeking to move the trial
elsewhere, but state District Judge Randy Clapp has not granted that

"Obviously, I disagree with the idea that one can't get a fair trial in
Wharton," McCown said outside court later Monday. "I think we can."

Freeman has been in jail ever since March 17, 2007, when Hurst was shot to
death in a graveyard following a 90-minute police chase through the rural
roads of Wharton and Matagorda counties.

On the night of the shooting, another game warden besides Hurst first
approached Freeman based on suspicions that the man was illegally hunting.
Freeman, who was in his pickup within a half-mile of his home, sped away
in his truck, authorities said.

After a 90-minute police chase involving seven police cars, Freeman and
various police officers exchanged heavy gunfire during a shootout in a
cemetery. Hurst, the married father of an infant son, died after being
shot twice. Much of the incident was captured on video by the cameras
mounted in police cars.

Freeman also was shot 4 times, but recovered.

Many Wharton County residents acknowledged they were familiar with the
case when questioned by the judge Monday.

Only 9 people among the 190 panelists who showed up in court Monday said
they had not heard about the case.

More than 35 panelists were excused after admitting they could not set
aside their personal opinions on whether the defendant was guilty or

At least 20 of the panelists acknowledged they would have trouble
sentencing anyone to death.

Dressed neatly in a long-sleeve blue dress shirt, necktie and tan pants,
Freeman was not handcuffed, but remained under the watch of several
sheriff's deputies at all times.

Freeman's parents, who watched the day's proceedings, declined to comment.
The parents of the slain game warden, also in court Monday, would not
comment publicly because of the pending trial.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Soap Opera Surroundings in Death Penalty Case—-Allegations of affair
surround execution date.

Could an alleged romantic relationship between a Judge and a Prosecutor
have set the stage for Charles Hood's date with death-scheduled for
Wednesday Night? Hood's lawyers will tell you it's very possible, but
other legal experts see a whole lot of work to do to make that stick.

"Fist of all you've got to show the relationship existed. Then secondly,
under existing Texas law, you have to show prejudice that came from that
relationship." said South Texas College of Law's Gerald Treece. "Texas law
is pretty tough on showing that any conviction should be set aside You
have to show that something went so far wrong in the system."

Both the now retired judge and the prosecutor deny the allegations of an
affair, and Treece said the timing of the allegations does raise some

"These type of arguments look like a desperate last minute attempt to set
aside the death penalty by people who are philosophically opposed to the
death penalty," Treece said.

Convicted of a 1989 murder, Hood's lawyers have asked the State Supreme
Court for a stay.

(source: KTRH News)


Trial begins in 1983 KFC murder case—-Inmate faces a 2nd life sentence
if convicted in the killings of 5

About 140 prospective jurors assembled Monday as trial got under way for
the 2nd of 2 men accused in the notorious murders of 5 people abducted
from an East Texas Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant a quarter-century

Darnell Hartsfield, 47, went on trial almost a year after his cousin,
Romeo Pinkerton, took a plea bargain midway through his own trial on five
capital murder charges for the 1983 fatal shootings outside Kilgore.

If convicted, Hartsfield faces an automatic life prison term because
prosecutors have said they won't seek the death penalty. The convicted
burglar and drug dealer from Tyler already was serving life for perjury
when DNA testing tied him to the KFC killings.

He traded his prison whites Monday for a white open-collar shirt and black
slacks as he sat at the defense table in a courtroom in Bryan, facing
prospective jurors as State District Judge Clay Gossett qualified them and
considered reasons why they may not be able to serve.

Gossett introduced the defendant and the lawyers in the case to the
prospective jurors. Hartsfield rose briefly but said nothing.

The case was moved to Bryan from Henderson, about 150 miles to the
northeast, because of publicity in East Texas.

Gossett said some 600 Brazos County residents had been summoned as
possible jurors. Less than a quarter of that number showed up.

"I understand this is not something you like to hear or want to hear," he
said, telling them the trial could last up to five weeks. "It's just the
reality of this."

A panel of 14, including two alternates, likely would be selected by
Friday, the judge said. The jury prospects filled out 13 pages of
questions and were asked to return Thursday for additional questioning by

Gossett said attorneys would deliver their opening arguments on Sept. 15.

The 5 victims were found dead along an oilfield road about 15 miles from
the KFC restaurant in Kilgore where they were abducted during a holdup the
previous night, Sept. 23, 1983.

Killed were David Maxwell, 20; Mary Tyler, 37; Opie Ann Hughes, 39; Joey
Johnson, 20; and Monte Landers, 19. All but Landers worked at the
restaurant about 25 miles east of Tyler and 115 miles east of Dallas.
Landers was a friend of Maxwell and Johnson and was visiting them as the
restaurant was closing for the night.

25-year sentence

Hartsfield, then 22, was arrested for aggravated robbery in September 1983
in another case and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Prosecutors contend
that 3 days before his arrest, he was one of the men participating in the
Kilgore killings.

Pinkerton faced a possible death sentence if convicted when he took the
plea deal last year for the 5 life terms. The agreement, however, did not
require him to testify against Hartsfield.

Authorities have refused to disclose any progress in their hunt for a
third suspect, citing a gag order imposed by Gossett.

(source: Associated Press)