death penalty news—-TEXAS

April 28


Rep. Lon Burnam calls for vote on whether to impeach Court of Criminal
Appeals Justice Sharon Keller

Rep. Lon Burnam said he will call for a House vote before the end of the
legislative session on whether to impeach Court of Criminal Appeal Chief
Justice Sharon Keller, who has been accused of ordering the court closed
as a death-penalty appeal was being prepared.

Rep. Lon Burnam, speaking at a news conference in Austin, said he will try
to force a House vote on whether to impeach Court of Criminal Appeals
Justice Sharon Keller. A House committee began a hearing late Monday on
Burnam's resolution that establishes procedures for articles of
impeachment to be created and voted upon. Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said that
Keller's "gross neglect of duty and willing disregard for human life"
warrants her immediate removal from the bench.

In September 2007, lawyers for condemned inmate Michael Richard called the
court clerk, cited computer problems and asked the court to stay open a
little later to receive his appeal. The brief was based on the same issue
that the U.S. Supreme Court had just decided to hear that day.

Keller was consulted about keeping the court open, although she was not
the judge assigned to handle the expected appeal, and said that the office
should close at 5 p.m.

Richard was executed that night, although subsequent requests to stop
executions by other inmates raising the same issues were all granted by
the U.S. Supreme Court.

Keller's attorney, Chip Babcock, could not be reached for comment, but he
has previously denied that the judge did anything wrong. He has
emphatically argued that attorneys for the condemned inmate caused
problems by failing to follow procedures and meet deadlines.

Keller's case is under review by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, but
Burnam said Monday that the Legislature should not wait months before the
commission rules.

"The only way to get Judge Keller off the bench promptly is through the
impeachment process," he said.

The House committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence is weighing a
resolution of impeachment where testimony from lawyers and others is
expected to help outline the procedure to remove a sitting judge.

Burnam said one of his witnesses, ethics lawyer Charles Herring of Austin,
will testify that Keller's actions were tantamount to "judicial homicide,"
he said.

The last time a judge was impeached by the Legislature was state district
Judge Oscar Carrillo in 1975. Carrillo was found guilty by the Senate of
corruption charges and removed from his Duval County office.

Burnam said he believes that a resolution of impeachment is a "privileged
motion," which if raised, must be considered by the House. If a majority
votes for the impeachment, a trial would be held by the Senate, which
could convene itself without the governor calling a special session, he

Currently, no articles of impeachment, the specific charges raised against
Keller, have been written. The Monday night hearing on his resolution
would to create a seven-member committee to create the charges and present
them to the House. But if that doesn't happen, Burnam said he will present
the question of impeachment to the full House before the end of the

"I'd rather lose the vote than not call it," he said.

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Representative initiates efforts for impeachment of Sharon
Keller—-Judge's decision to close court before execution sparked

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, outlines impeachment allegations
against Judge Sharon Keller, including a charge of "judicial homicide" for
Keller's decision to deny an appeal in a controversial death-sentence
case. "She's an embarrassment to the Republican Party and to the court,"
said Burnam, who plans to put the motion to impeach Keller to a vote once
he is sure he has enough votes to win.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, called for the impeachment of Sharon
Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, on Monday
afternoon at the Capitol.

Burnam is spearheading the calls for impeachment after Keller made the
controversial decision in September 2007 to close the doors of her court
at 5 p.m., refusing to keep them open an extra 20 minutes to receive a
last-minute filing from the attorneys of death row inmate Michael Richard.

The attorneys claim they were having computer issues that prevented them
from turning in the motion on time.

Richard was executed just hours after Keller shut her doors, which
violated the 49-year-old convicted killer's Fifth Amendment rights, Burnam
said. The execution came just before a 9-month moratorium on executions in
Texas while the U.S. Supreme Court considered a challenge to the
constitutionality of lethal injection.

"We cannot allow a judge with a self-declared bias against capital
defendants to continue deciding execution appeals," Burnam said. "I
believe this represents a gross neglect of duty and willing disregard for
human life."

Burnam said the only alternative to the impeachment process is an 18-month
deliberation by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is likely
to lead to "a slap on the wrist" rather than immediate removal from

"Because death-penalty cases exemplify the state at the zenith of its
power over the individual, those who do page these decisions must be held
to the highest ethical standards," Burnam said. "It's an embarrassment to
the state of Texas. It's an embarrassment to the Republican Party that she
represents in this division, and it's an embarrassment to her legal

Gloria Rubac, a member of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement,
applauded Burnam's comments and said Richard's execution was wrong.

"It's unbelievable that somebody in [Keller's] position would allow a man
to be executed when she knew, like I knew, a few hours earlier in the day
the U.S. Supreme Court had in effect overturned executions."

Daniel Hagood, a Dallas defense lawyer who has known Keller since the late
1980s and served as her campaign treasurer when she first ran for office
in 1994, said that Burnam would find that there is no basis for
impeachment because Richard's attorneys had every opportunity to stay the

"Nothing prevented those lawyers from filing a motion before 5 o'clock,"
Hagood said. "There's nothing magical about a hand-written motion. Any
competent lawyer would [know that]. Hagood also said that even if the
doors were closed, the attorneys could have handed the motion to any of
the 9 judges on the court, including Keller.

Burnam said that he would move as quickly as he could with the impeachment
of Keller, putting the motion to a vote by the House as soon as he was
sure he had enough votes to win.

(source: The (Univ. Texas) Daily Texan)


Texas death row inmate from Carrollton closer to execution

A Carrollton man condemned for an attack that left 3 people dead during
the robbery of their home in San Antonio more than 15 years ago moved a
step closer to execution with the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal Monday to
review his case.

Arnold Prieto, 35, is 1 of 3 men convicted in the fatal stabbings of
Rudolfo Rodriguez, 72, his wife, Virginia, 62, and Paula Moran, 90, a
family friend of the San Antonio couple.

In another death row case, among four Texas cases turned down Monday by
the high court, the justices refused to review the case of Yosvanis Valle,
33, a Cuban native and alleged gang member. He was condemned for the fatal
shooting 10 years ago of a drug dealer in Pasadena, just outside Houston.

2 other condemned Texas murderers both convicted of fatally shooting
Houston police officers also lost appeals though their cases are earlier
in the legal process following their convictions.

They included Robert Jennings, 51, convicted of killing Elston Howard, an
undercover Houston vice officer, in 1988; and Alfred Brown, 27, condemned
for the slaying of Charles Clark, who was shot after responding to a
robbery in progress at Houston check-cashing store.

None of the 4 inmates has an execution date.

In Prieto's case, 2 of the murder victims, the Rodriguez couple, were the
great-uncle and great-aunt of his 2 companions, brothers Guadalupe and
Jessie Hernandez, also of Carrollton. Jessie Hernandez, 1 day short of his
17th birthday on the day of the killings and ineligible for the death
penalty, received a life prison term for his involvement in the 1993
robbery-slayings. Charges were dropped against Guadalupe Hernandez because
prosecutors said they had insufficient evidence.

Rodriguez and his wife operated a check-cashing business from their San
Antonio home. The couple and Moran, who had been a nanny to their children
and lived with them, were fatally stabbed with a knife, a screwdriver and
possibly an ice pick. Rodriguez had 17 stab wounds. His wife had 31
wounds. Moran was stabbed 8 times.

Prieto told police in a confession he and his friends, high on cocaine,
intended on robbing the business when they traveled from Carrollton to San

In Valle's case, a Harris County jury deliberated about 6 hours in 2001
before deciding he should be executed for the 1999 slaying of 28-year-old
Jose Martin Junco.

Prosecutors described Valle as a member of La Raza Unida A Race United a
prison gang, and contended he assassinated other gang members to move up
in the ranks. Records indicate at the time of the Junco slaying Valle had
been released on mandatory supervision after receiving an eight-year
sentence for possession a sawed-off shotgun.

Known as "El Cubano," he also was linked by authorities to a slaying at a
convenience store and to the killing of 2 other gang members.

(source: Associated Press)