death penalty news—-TEXAS

Sept. 25


Death row inmate's lawyers request new trial, citing romance between judge
and prosecutor

As expected, attorneys for death row inmate Charles Dean Hood filed a
petition today seeking a new trial for the condemned killer, claiming his
original trial was unfair because of the recently revealed romantic
relationship between Judge Verla Sue Holland, who presided, and then
District Attorney Tom O'Connell, who prosecuted the case.

The petition also castigated the current district attorney, his "minions,"
and the state attorney general for their actions in the case, which has
been bouncing through criminal and civil courts since Mr. Hoods execution
was called off at the eleventh hour in June.

"The wall of silence that has long surrounded Judge Holland and Mr.
OConnell has finally come crashing down," the filing said, referring to
recent depositions in which Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell confirmed
their romantic involvement. "A fair and impartial tribunal is a bedrock
requirement of due process."

Mr. Hood, who was convicted for the 1989 killing in Plano of Tracie Lynn
Wallace and Ronald Williamson, deserves a new trial because "Judge Holland
created an appearance of impropriety and an impression of possible bias,"
the defense wrote.

Mr. Hoods attorneys were not available for comment.

According to the filing, Judge Holland, whose attorney also could not be
reached for comment, said in depositions that it was "absolutely not"
improper for her to preside over the case. She reportedly told attorneys
the romantic relationship began in 1982 and ended in 1987, several years
before Mr. Hood's 1990 trial. Mr. O'Connell recollected that it started in
1984 or 1985 and did not end until 1991 or 1992.

The depositions reportedly said both parties professed their love for each
other at the time.

According to the petition, Mr. O'Connell said Judge Holland had talked
about getting married, but Judge Holland denied that. Both parties said
they kept the relationship secret.

"Their sexual encounters took place at each other's homes when their
spouses were away," the filing says.

The 2 apparently remained good friends even as the romance dwindled. As
late as 1991, the pair went on a trip to Santa Fe together, and Mr.
O'Connell attended Judge Holland's family reunion in Missouri that same

John Rolater, assistant district attorney for Collin County, declined to
comment on the petition, citing pending litigation.

The filing takes his office, which fought to keep the depositions from
being taken, to task, saying, "Their actions have been marked by
overzealousness that calls into question their adherence to their duty
'that justice shall be done.'"

Mr. Rolater again declined to respond, saying, "Matters like this should
be resolved in the court, not in sound bites."

The petition also questioned the conduct of state Attorney General Greg
Abbot, despite the fact that his office filed a "friend of the court"
brief calling for an investigation into the relationship a few days before
Mr. Hood's last execution date. The state's top lawyer criticized the
defense at the time for raising the claim after 18 years of litigation.

"The attorney general's cake-and-eat-it desires to restore the publics
faith in judiciary while castigating Mr. Hood's attorneys for not coming
forward earlier with credible, compelling evidence of this furtive
relationship raise serious questions about his commitments to justice in
this case."

The attorney general's office did not return a call for comment.

(source: Dallas Morning News)


New trial sought for killer in affair case

Lawyers for a death row inmate whose execution was blocked after
allegations that his trial judge and prosecutor were having an affair
asked Texas' highest criminal court Thursday to grant him a new trial.

"The truth was deliberately concealed in this case for nearly 20 years,"
attorneys A. Richard Ellis and Greg Wiercioch said in their request to the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on behalf of Charles Dean Hood.

Hood won a reprieve from the court Sept. 9, a day before his scheduled
lethal injection, but not because of the secret romantic relationship
between his now-retired trial judge, Verla Sue Holland, and Tom O'Connell,
the former district attorney in Collin County in suburban Dallas.

Instead, the Austin-based appeals court where Holland served as a judge in
the late 1990s said it wanted to reconsider whether the jury instructions
at Hood's 1990 trial were flawed. A ruling favorable to Hood could result
in a new sentencing proceeding but not necessarily a complete new trial.

As Hood's execution neared, his lawyers alleged his trial was tainted by
the unethical and improper relationship and won a court order forcing
Holland and O'Connell to be questioned under oath. In depositions, the
pair acknowledged they'd had a years-long affair.

"This revelation casts a deep shadow over justice in this case," Hood's
attorneys said in their application for a new trial. "The wall of silence
that has long surrounded Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell has finally come
crashing down."

The affair, they said, meant Hood's state and federal constitutional
rights to an impartial trial were violated.

Attorneys for Holland and O'Connell have declined to discuss the'
depositions, citing a gag order. Neither the judge nor the former
prosecutor has been publicly disciplined by the State Commission on
Judicial Conduct or the State Bar of Texas.

Laura Burstein, a spokeswoman for Hood's lawyers, said Thursday the
attorneys would "let the petition speak for itself."

Hood, 39, is a former bouncer at a topless club who was 20 when he was
arrested in Indiana for the fatal shootings of Tracie Lynn Wallace, 26, an
ex-dancer, and her boyfriend, Ronald Williamson, 46, at Williamson's home
in Plano in 1989.

Hood has maintained his innocence. He was driving Williamson's $70,000
Cadillac at the time of his arrest. Evidence against him included his
fingerprints at the murder scene. Hood has said he had permission to drive
the car and his fingerprints were at the house because he had been living

The affair, an apparent open secret 20 years ago in Collin County legal
circles, gained traction in June when a former assistant district attorney
filed an affidavit saying it was "common knowledge" from at least 1987
until about 1993. The time includes Hood's trial.

In their depositions, according to the filing Thursday, Holland said the
romance began in 1982 and ended in 1987. O'Connell's account said the
romance began in 1984 or 1985, continued until mid 1989 and may have
continued beyond then.

The filing said the 2 discussed the possibility of marriage, remained good
friends and continued seeing each other as recently as 1992.

"That a judge charged with avoiding the appearance of bias and a
prosecutor tasked with doing justice would allow their desire for secrecy
to trump their sworn constitutional duties is a stunning display of
arrogance and the corrupting influence of power," Hood's lawyers said in
their request for a new trial.

"There is no dispute that Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell were engaged in
a long-term, intimate sexual relationship prior to Mr. Hood's trial and
did not disclose that fact to Mr. Hood or his counsel. … The damage to
Mr. Hood's constitutional right to a fair and impartial tribunal is
obvious and egregious."

The attorneys said as an alternative to a new trial, the appeals court
should send the case back to the trial court for additional proceedings
and "grant any other relief that law and justice require."

O'Connell was the county's elected district attorney from 1971-82 and from
1987-2002. Holland was a state district judge from 1974-96 before moving
on to the Court of Criminal Appeals from 1997-2002.

(source: Associated Press)