death penalty news—-TEXAS

August 24


Texas judge on trial for refusing to hear death row inmate's appeal

Judge Sharon Keller is currently on trial facing 5 counts of judicial
misconduct in the state of Texas. Keller is the presiding judge on the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and a well-known figure to opponents of
capital punishment.

The charges faced by Keller in the current trial originate with events
surrounding the 2007 execution of Michael Wayne Richard. On September 25,
the day of Richard's execution, his attorneys sought to file a last-minute
appeal with Kellers office. Computer troubles had delayed completion of an
appeal, and they called Keller's office to inform them of the problem and
asked if the office would remain open to receive the appeal upon its

Keller had left her office earlier in the day in order to meet a repairman
who had been scheduled to arrive at her home. At approximately 4:45 p.m.,
she received a phone call from general counsel Ed Marty, who had been
informed of the situation by the office, telling her of their request. She
responded, "We close at 5." Richard was executed 3 hours later.

The level of contempt exhibited by Keller's behavior, both for human life
and the system of appeals over which she presides, is truly appalling. The
very fact that Keller had chosen to leave her office early is itself
troubling considering the US Supreme Court had, that very morning,
consented to hear an argument on the constitutionality of lethal
injection, making an appeal from Richards attorneys all but guaranteed.

Keller's conduct has drawn protests from anti-death penalty advocates, who
have dubbed the judge "Sharon Killer," as well as her own colleagues in
the Texas criminal justice system. Judge Cheryl Johnson testified at
Keller's trial this week, telling the court she believed Keller had
violated procedure. Johnson was on call the night of Richard's execution,
meaning she was available to hear appeals from his attorneys if necessary,
but maintains she was not informed by Keller or her office about any
attempt to appeal until four days after the execution had taken place.
"[I] would have told them they could file," she told the courtroom, "It's
an execution. They might be valid pleadings. I have no other way of

As Keller's trial has proceeded, she has continually denied any
wrongdoing. She told the court on Wednesday that, given the opportunity to
do things over, she would not change anything. Telling the court that the
"no" she gave Ed Marty by phone was ultimately of no consequence, Keller
stated, "the clerk's office closed at 5, regardless of what I said." This
testimony ignores statute 658.005 of Texas Government Code, which gives
administrators of state agencies, in this case Keller, authorization to
keep their agency operating after closing hours if necessary.

If Keller is found guilty of misconduct, the State Commission on Judicial
Conduct has the option to either censure the judge or remove her from the
bench altogether.

The case of Michael Richard is yet another nightmare scenario in the long
history of capital punishment in the United States, and in Texas in
particular. The US has carried out 1,173 executions since the
reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Texas has presided over 439 of
these, making it the leading state in executions. At the time of his death
in 2007, Michael Richard was the 405th prisoner to be executed in that

At least nine inmates with mental retardation have been executed in Texas,
all of them since 1990. No less than 13 inmates have been executed in
Texas for crimes committed when they were juveniles. The capital
punishment system in Texas, to say nothing of the system as a whole, has
been shown time and again to be used disproportionately against
African-American and Latino offenders. Victims of the death penalty are
overwhelmingly poor and working class. Foreign nationals are routinely
denied their consular rights and sent to their deaths.

For many, Sharon Keller has come to personify the ugliness of this
barbaric practice, a practice defended by both Republicans and Democrats,
including President Barack Obama.

(source: Axis of Logic)