death penalty news—-TEXAS

Feb. 23


Sharon Keller hearing justified

Sharon Keller, the state's head criminal appeals judge, embarrassed Texas
with her "we close at 5" rejection of a death penalty appeal in 2007. The
execution was carried out a few hours later, magnifying this state's image
as cavalier about putting people to death.

It's fitting that Judge Keller will have to defend her actions and her
job in a rare hearing before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Texas must have courts that are dispassionate, fair and soberly mindful of
their life-and-death authority. Judge Keller's actions cast doubt about
whether she measures up, and her opportunity to address that will clarify
her level of commitment to justice over vengeance.

Judge Keller has made other injudicious comments, such as a campaign
statement that she is a "pro-prosecution" jurist. Properly applying the
law rules out being "pro" anything aside from "pro" justice. That boils
down to a matter of competence, one area of inquiry before the commission.

Charges against Judge Keller don't question whether an innocent man was
executed. There has been no indication that convicted killer Michael
Richard was anything but a murderer. But that's not the question. The
state Constitution guarantees access to the courts, and any abrogation of
that right especially with an execution pending is an outrage.

As if admitting a deadline blunder, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
later adopted a written policy about taking appeals on pending executions.
For example, defense lawyers may now deliver filings via e-mail, a
practice already used in other appeals courts.

The charges against Judge Keller come at an opportune time. With the
Legislature meeting in Austin, lawmakers will be sorting through proposals
to heighten the level of scrutiny in capital cases. One of them, filed by
Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, would give a condemned inmate the right to
attend, either in person or by telephone, a clemency hearing by the parole

That is the level of access a defendant should be afforded, and the level
of attention that the justice system must pay, when the state is about to
end a person's life.

(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News, Feb. 20)