Trial of Texas judge over death-row appeal ends
Lawyers for a Texas judge accused of denying a death-row inmate a late
appeal are asking a judge to find no merit to the misconduct charges.
Judge Sharon Keller's ethics trial ended Thursday with her lawyer saying
Michael Wayne Richard never had a last-minute appeal before his 2007
execution because the convicted killer's legal team simply gave up.
Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Court Appeals,
left a San Antonio courtroom following closing arguments. She now awaits
the report of a judge who presided over the four-day misconduct hearing.
Prosecutors closed by saying Keller ignored her court's execution-day
rules and should be held accountable.
(source: Associated Press)
Time's Up: Texas Judge on Trial for Death Penalty Decision
This week sees the San Antonio trial of Sharon Keller, the presiding judge
on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who is accused of judicial
misconduct for closing her court before a last-minute appeal could be
filed for an inmate on death row.
Michael Wayne Richard, twice convicted of the rape and killing of a woman
in 1986, was facing death by lethal injection on Sept. 25, 2007. That same
day, the Supreme Court effectively suspended lethal injection as a manner
of execution by accepting a challenge to its constitutionality in an
Richard's lawyers, acting on this decision, were in the process of putting
together an appeal to delay his execution but had problems with their
paperwork. Keller, at 4 p.m., left court for the day, with an assigned
duty judge in place in the event that Richard's legal team filed for an
appeal. According to testimony, Keller's clerk received the team's request
to file paperwork after 5 p.m. — the usual closing time for the office.
After a brief phone conversation with the clerk, Keller responded: "We
close at 5." Richard was executed three hours later. On Wednesday, Keller
— who some activists call "Sharon Killer" — took the stand and said she
would have done nothing differently. In response to the prosecution's
question, "You declined to allow any grace period?" Keller replied, "I
declined to keep the clerk's office open past closing time."
What some see as behavior warranting Keller's ouster and others view as a
respect for protocol is complicated by the fact that Keller presides over
what The New York Times called "the most active execution chamber in the
country." Compounding this is Keller's response to the prosecution's
inquiry as to whether she generally viewed last-minute pleadings in death
row cases to be less substantial. Keller agreed, saying, "They do tend to
be voluminous and meritless." Was Keller respecting court rules or letting
personal preference cloud her decision making?
The counsel arguing against Keller has said that, "This is not a
referendum or a debate or a poll concerning the death penalty," and that
this is instead a question of whether Keller was competent to "administer
capital punishment with the necessary gravity, discretion and care."
Perhaps. But the subtext of Keller's trial is whether a citizen's life —
or death — should be handled by a judicial system that has proven itself
erratic, inaccurate and oftentimes arbitrary in its decision making.
What's more, the New York Times reported last week that "in dozens of
capital cases in recent years, appeals court judges, some of whom have
ruled in favor of the death penalty many times, have complained that
Congress and the Supreme Court have raised daunting barriers for death row
prisoners to appeal their convictions." And that's to say nothing of the
court's tricky hours of operation.
(source: Alex Wagner, Politics Daily)
Families of Wood's victims frustrated by stay of execution
Had David Leonard Wood's execution proceeded as planned, he would have
been strapped to a gurney and facing death at a Huntsville prison at 5
But Wood's stay of execution means he probably won't face death for at
least another month.
3 family members of Wood's 6 victims — Marcia Fulton and Sundee
McPherson, the mother and sister of Desiree Wheatley, and Nicole Martin,
the sister of Ivy Williams — had traveled from Florida and Colorado,
respectively, to watch Wood die.
A court hearing in El Paso is expected to be scheduled soon to determine
if Wood, convicted in 1992 of killing 6 girls and young women and burying
them in the Northeast El Paso desert, is mentally retarded and therefore
unfit for execution.
ABC-7 visited the family members at a hotel about a half-mile from where
Wood was scheduled to die by lethal injection.
Fulton said the entire process has been exhausting.
"It is difficult and it's difficult for every victim because we've been
sitting here for 22 years. After 22 years, you expect something happen and
when it doesn't happen the way you are expecting, it makes you feel like,
OK, here's another thing that the victim has to put up with."
Nicole Martin was just 14 when her sister, Ivy Williams, was raped and
murdered by Wood in 1987. A frustrated Martin said she disagrees with
Wood's attorney's claims that he is mentally challenged.
"As far as mental retardation goes, no. If you really look at all the
history of all the times he's been in front of the media, he's been angry
that anyone would dare call him that. For him to now claim that the day
before, that's just another control, power trip. And that's his victory,
but I don't believe he's retarded."
Prison officials said that if another execution date is set, it will be at
least a month before it can be carried out.
Back in El Paso, victim's families also said they were frustrated by the
news of the stay.
Amy Frausto's little sister Angie was killed by Wood when she was 17.
Frausto said her 3 daughters remind her every day of the sister she lost.
She said her sister loved and animals and wanted to be a veterinarian.
Frausto said when she found out about the stay of execution, she knew her
family's suffering wasn't over yet.
"To bring all this up again is really hard…I'm just very upset and
angry. I mean, how many appeals does the guy have to have just because
he's afraid of dying…to meet his maker?" she said.
Frausto said she knows the execution of Wood would not bring her sister
back, but she believes it would help bring her some closure.
(source: KVIA News)