Court affair gives death row inmate a new chance in 1989 Plano murder case
A judge has ruled that death row inmate Charles Dean Hood should get
another chance to argue before the state's highest criminal court that he
did not get a fair trial even though it has been 19 years since his case
went to court.
State District Judge Greg Brewer on Friday ruled that Hood had not waited
too late to raise the issue of an improper relationship between the judge
who presided over his trial, Verla Sue Holland, and then-Collin County
District Attorney Tom O'Connell.
The state's "hands are unclean," said Brewer, who was instructed by the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to examine the issue.
"It is the appearance of impartiality that is damaging to the public's
confidence in the integrity of the judicial process," the judge wrote.
Hood was convicted in the 1989 robbery and murder of Ronald Williamson and
Tracie Lynn Wallace in Plano. For years, his attorneys had tried to raise
the issue of whether the relationship between judge and prosecutor had
affected the trial, but his attorneys said they had little to go on other
Hood came within a couple of hours of being executed last summer when his
attorneys raised the issue again in a last-ditch effort as his death
A couple of weeks before Hood's June execution date, the defense attorneys
found a former assistant district attorney who filed an affidavit
indicating he was aware of the relationship.
Then in September, Hood's attorneys finally got the proof they needed by
forcing depositions from the 2 parties under a civil procedure. At that
time, Holland and O'Connell admitted to having a sexual relationship
before Hood's trial, which had not been revealed to the defense at trial
or during years of appeals.
Prosecutors claimed Hood had waited too long to raise the issue of
In November, after staying Hood's next execution date to consider another
issue, and after the case received nationwide attention, the court of
criminal appeals asked the lower court to make a recommendation on the
In his ruling, Brewer said Hood's legal team exercised "reasonable
diligence" during the years, and that prosecutors' claim that the defense
had moved too slowly was not valid.
"Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell did not abide by their ethical and
constitutional duties to disclose the fundamental conflict caused by their
relationship," the judge wrote.
Attorneys for Hood were unavailable for comment; assistant district
attorney John Rolater declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
The case goes back to the court of criminal appeals for consideration on
the judicial bias claim.
The court still is considering the other claim: that jurors were given
contradictory instructions regarding mitigating circumstances, such as
Hood's family background or childhood abuse, when considering the death
Judge Sharon Keller amends financial report to include $2.4 million in
The state's top criminal appeals court judge has amended her personal
financial statement to disclose more than $2.4 million in property and
income that she had not previously reported to the state, as required by
In a sworn statement filed in Austin earlier this week, Sharon Keller said
she omitted more than two dozen properties, bank accounts, income sources
and business directorships because her elderly father in Dallas had not
told her about them.
"My father, Jack Keller, over a number of years has acquired and managed,
without input from me, all of these properties," Keller wrote in a filing
with the Texas Ethics Commission meant to correct the annual report she
made in April 2008.
Her attorney expanded on her explanation Friday, saying that Keller, the
presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals since 2001,
misinterpreted what she had to disclose and lost track of holdings she had
disclosed in earlier financial reports.
"We're not saying she is excused. She is at fault," Ed Shack said. "But
she wasn't trying to deceive anybody."
Keller's revised financial statement was compiled after The Dallas Morning
News reported in March that she had not disclosed nearly $2 million in
commercial and residential properties, including two homes in a family
compound on Garland Road.
The judge faces a civil and criminal complaint alleging she violated state
ethics laws by failing to fully disclose her financial assets. Shack
previously has described her omissions as inadvertent.
The News began reviewing Keller's finances after she cited undue financial
stress in trying to dismiss ethics charges stemming from allegations that
she refused to allow a death row inmate to file a last-minute appeal to
stave off execution.
Keller faces a hearing before a special master in August on her handling
of Michael Wayne Richard's unsuccessful appeal in September 2007. She
could be removed from office if she is found to have violated the state's
judicial conduct code.
In addition, Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, has vowed to push for a House
vote on his bill to convene a special committee to examine whether Keller,
a Republican, should be impeached.
Andrew Wheat, research director of Texans for Public Justice, an Austin
watchdog group that filed the complaints over Keller's nondisclosures,
suggested that the judge would not be swayed by other's pleas of
"If a defense attorney in a death penalty case before Judge Keller's court
filed briefs as carelessly as Keller filed her financials, the client in
question already would have been executed," he said.
Keller, a former Dallas County prosecutor, is part of a well-known East
Dallas family that operates a popular chain of drive-in hamburger
Her father has formed more than a dozen real estate companies. Ownership
of many of those companies is divided among his four children, with their
father serving as business manager.
"Her father completely controlled a huge aspect of her financial life,"
Keller put together the corrected report after much discussion with her
father, Shack said. He said he is confident "we did get this one right."
Jack Keller did not return a phone call made to his home Friday.
Three properties Keller failed to disclose were acquired and managed by
Jack Keller without his daughter's knowledge of her interest, Mr. Shack
said. The properties 2 fast-food restaurants and a bank are worth about
In October 2007, Sharon Keller signed a plat record for the bank property
on North Collins in Arlington, which listed her as co-owner with her
parents, according to records on file with the Tarrant County Clerk's
"Even though she might get a check, even though they might be a source of
income, I don't think she was aware that she owned the underlying real
estate," he said.
Shack gave a similar explanation for why Keller did not make the required
disclosure of her position as an officer or director in three family-owned
"She did not think of these as positions that she held," he said.
"Certainly, at some time she may have been aware of them, but it was
certainly not at the front of her mind."
3 other omitted properties the 2 homes on Garland Road and a 1.5-acre
commercial tract in Euless just "dropped off" Keller's previous reports,
Shack said. Their combined value on county tax records is $1.1 million.
"They usually made copies of these reports and just made alterations on
them from year to year," he said. "Apparently those just didn't copy, or
they just fell off. I don't think she intended that they not appear. They
just didn't get copied."
Other omissions Keller corrected included ownership of 22 certificates of
deposit in four banks and at least $110,000 interest derived from those
investments. She did not list the value of the CDs, Shack said, because
she was not required to do so.
Shack said Keller did not realize that an ethics commission form calling
for disclosure of bonds, notes and commercial paper included certificates
"I had to educate her to that effect, and that's why she included them
now," he said.
He called the requirement to report CDs an example of "how nonsensical the
forms can be."
Shack, a former attorney for the ethics commission, said even he was
unaware that CDs were viewed as a type of commercial paper.
None of the omissions was an attempt to hide assets, Shack said.
"It's not like she's a legislator and some vote that she might take would
have impact on her ability to raise money," he said. "Here she is, a
criminal court of appeals judge. None of her property has anything to do
with her business, with her office."
He said he expects Keller will be more careful in future reports.
(source for both: Dallas Morning News)
******************************* new execution date
Stephen Moody has been given an execution date of September 16; it should
be considered serious.
(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)
Texas death row inmate indicted in cell phone case
A Texas death row inmate and 2 relatives have been indicted for allegedly
smuggling cell phones into a prison which led to a statewide lockdown.
Special Prosecutions Chief Gina DeBottis tells the Austin
American-Statesman that 30-year-old Richard Lee Tabler, his mother
Lorraine Tabler and his 36-year-old sister Kristina Martinez were indicted
Friday on charges of possessing contraband in a state prison.
A 2nd inmate, 43-year-old Michael Roy Toney, was indicted on similar
A Polk County grand jury also indicted Tabler on a felony retaliation
charge for threatening to kill state Sen. John Whitmire of Houston.
Officials say Tabler sent a letter to Whitmire.
Tabler was convicted of shooting a strip club manager and another man in
(source: Boston Globe)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA—–Texas: One governor, 200executions
30 April 2009
On 2 June 2009, Texas is scheduled to carry out its 200thexecution under
the governorship of Rick Perry. In a new report, Amnesty International
looks back at a few of the cases of prisoners executed during Governor
Perry's term in office and forward to a few cases that may yet come before
him for clemency.
The macabre milestone — in an increasingly abolitionist world — of the
200thexecution under an eight-and-a-half-year governorship should give
pause for thought for officials with the power over life and death in the
capital justice system. Any of them, whether judge or prosecutor,
legislator or governor, can and should speak out for an end to this cruel
and unnecessary punishment. Amnesty International urges Governor Perry to
join such calls, and work with the state legislature to abolish the death
penalty in Texas. Meanwhile, he and the parole board should do all in
their power to prevent further executions in Texas.
Amnesty International's report considers a number of issues, and places
them in the context of an executive clemency system in Texas which is far
from the "failsafe" against injustice it purports to be:
17-year-old offenders. Before 2005 when the US Supreme Court outlawed the
death penalty against children, the USA was a world leader in this
international law violation, with Texas its leading perpetrator. 4 of the
last 5 child offenders executed in the USA were put to death in Texas
after Governor Perry and the parole board denied clemency. All four were
African American, highlighting the issue of race, an ever-present aspect
of the US capital justice system.
18- and 19-year-old offenders. The prohibition of the death penalty
against under-18-year-olds recognizes the immaturities associated with
youth and the capacity for change in a young person. 18 is a minimum
standard — such attributes continue beyond 17. Some 31 individuals have
been put to death during Governor Perry's term in office for crimes
committed when they were 18 or 19 years old. Nineteen of the 31 were
African Americans, 13 of whom were executed for crimes involving white
victims. Another 46 await execution for crimes committed at 18 or 19. One,
Derrick Johnson, is due for execution this evening, 30 April, for a crime
committed when he was 18. He and 26 of these 46 inmates are black. 8 are
Executions of prisoners with mental illness. As in the case of young
offenders, by the time Governor Perry took office, Texas was no stranger
to killing condemned inmates suffering from serious mental illness. A
number of such prisoners have gone to their deaths in the state execution
chamber since then. International human rights bodies and experts have
long called for the death penalty not to be used against individuals
suffering from mental disorders. In 2004, in the case of an inmate
suffering from very serious mental illness, Governor Perry rejected a rare
recommendation for commutation by the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Inadequate protections for condemned inmates with learning disabilities.
In 2002, in Atkins v Virginia, the US Supreme Court outlawed the execution
of people with mental retardation. The Court left it to states to take the
appropriate steps to comply with the ruling, thereby opening the door to
inconsistent approaches. Seven years on, the Texas legislature has still
not passed a post-Atkins statute, and Texas is one of the states causing
concern about inadequate protection for mentally impaired death row
prisoners, a situation exacerbated by ineffective clemency.
Inadequate legal representation. The poor quality of legal representation
that indigent capital defendants receive, both at trial and for
state-level appeals, remains a recurring theme in Texas capital justice.
Also recurring has been the failure of the clemency authorities to
recognize the injustice and stop the execution. Some inmates have gone to
their deaths after their lawyers missed deadlines for filing federal
appeals. Several more in this position face execution.
Future dangerousness. Every death sentence and execution in Texas is based
on a finding of the condemned individual's "future dangerousness". Texas
prosecutors have repeatedly resorted to the highly dubious use of "expert"
testimony purporting to be able to predict the defendant's dangerousness.
Research has shown such predictions to be wildly inaccurate. Questions
about the future dangerousness scheme also include whether it has allowed
fear, rather than a rational consideration of defendant culpability, to
drive juror decision-making. Rehabilitation appears to be another issue
that the clemency authorities fail to see as a valid reason to spare the
life of the condemned prisoner.
Foreign nationals denied their consular rights. In violation of
international law, Texas has continued to execute foreign nationals whose
right to consular access after arrest was denied.
Executing the innocent. For many people, the death penalty's most
intolerable flaw is the risk of irreversible error that accompanies it.
During Governor Perry's time in office, Texas has continued to execute
prisoners whose guilt remained in doubt. One of them was Cameron
Willingham, convicted of arson murder. Experts now believe the fire may
have been an accident. In another case, that of Richard Wayne Jones, the
judge who sentenced him to death now believes he may have been innocent.
The then Governor, George W. Bush, was out of Texas campaigning for the US
presidency and left the case to his Lieutenant Governor, Rick Perry. The
requested reprieve for DNA testing was denied and Jones was executed.
Amnesty International is not suggesting that the Texas governor alone is
responsible for the fate of those on death row. Many people are involved
in capital justice — from prosecutors to jurors, from legislators to
prison staff, from judges to members of the clemency board, and the Texas
governor's clemency powers are somewhat circumscribed. However, like his
predecessor, Governor Perry has rarely exercised his power of reprieve, or
used his authority to seek commutation of a death sentence, and continues
to advocate strongly for capital punishment.
On a positive note, there is reason to believe that the USA is turning
against the death penalty. The number of people sentenced to death in 2007
was 1/3 of what it was in 1996 and the lowest since 1977. This pattern is
reflected in Texas too. In the 5 years from 1995 to 1999, Texas juries
sent 192 people to death row, at an average of 38 per year. In the 5 years
from 2004 to 2008, they sentenced 71 defendants to death, at an average of
14 per year.
This would seem to reflect a broader downturn in public support for the
death penalty in the USA. An erosion of the public's belief in the
deterrence value of the death penalty, an increased awareness of the
frequency of wrongful convictions in capital cases, and a greater
confidence that public safety can be guaranteed by life prison terms
rather than death sentences have all contributed to the waning of
enthusiasm for capital punishment.
Politicians and legislators in Texas and elsewhere in the United States of
America should seize this opportunity to break their country's death
penalty habit and lead the USA towards joining the clear majority of
countries that have abandoned this punishment.
For further information, see 'USA: Too much cruelty, too little clemency.
Texas nears 200thexecution under current governor', 30 April 2009,
available at http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/057/2009/en.
(source: Amnesty International, April 30)