Last week, more than 100 Jewish attorneys in Texas, the American Jewish Committee, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism filed an amicus brief with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) in support of a new trial for Randy Halprin. Halprin’s 2003 trial was tainted by the anti-Semitic bias of Dallas Judge Vickers Cunningham.
Despite the fact that no court has considered the impact of the judge’s religious prejudice, Halprin has been scheduled for execution on October 10, 2019. He was convicted and sentenced to death under Texas’ “law of parties,” which holds co-conspirators just as criminally liable as shooters, for the killing of Irving police Officer Aubrey Hawkins during the robbery of a sporting goods store in December 2000.
Halprin’s lawyers are seeking a stay of execution from the CCA, which the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office is not opposing.
The press release below includes details about the amicus brief, as well as information about other developments in Halprin’s case. Coverage of these recent filings is available from the Texas Tribune, the Washington Post, and the Austin American-Statesman (among other outlets).
For Immediate Release: September 5, 2019
Contact: Tristin Aaron, email@example.com; (718) 938-4078
Widespread Concern About Anti-Semitic Bias Held by Dallas Judge in Death Penalty Case with Jewish Defendant
District Attorney Takes “Extraordinary” Step Not Opposing Filings Seeking New Trial
(Austin, Texas) Today, amid numerous public expressions of support for a new trial for Jewish death row prisoner Randy Halprin, attorneys filed a Notice of Non-Opposition & Submission of Matter for Decision, arguing his scheduled execution should be stayed so courts can consider new evidence the judge made anti-Semitic comments about Mr. Halprin. The notice was filed at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA), along with a friend-of-the court brief signed by over 100 Jewish attorneys in Texas, the American Jewish Committee, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Previously, the Anti-Defamation League submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Mr. Halprin’s federal habeas petition.
Additionally, two new letters of support were recently shared with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot, including one from Jewish community leaders and another from over 75 Texas faith leaders from multiple religions, denominations and organizations, which states:
“As a diverse group of faith leaders, we stand united against any expression of hatred…. Texas must not carry out the scheduled execution of Mr. Halprin without first guaranteeing that his trial was not tainted by an anti-Semitic judge who held a religious bias against him.” (Interfaith Letter, pp. 1-2) (Links to all documents are below)
Mr. Halprin is scheduled for execution on October 10, 2019, despite newly-available evidence, never considered by any court, which shows former Dallas judge Vickers Cunningham harbored anti-Semitic views. Judge Cunningham, who presided over Mr. Halprin’s trial and death sentencing called him a “g*****n k*k*” and “f***** Jew,” and referred to his Latino co-defendants “w*****ks.”
One of Mr. Halprin’s attorneys, Tivon Schardl, commented, “Texas lawyers with a wide range of cases and interests agree that the Court of Criminal Appeal must act to reassure the people of this State that a criminal judgment tainted by religious and ethnic bias cannot stand. Similarly, District Attorney John Creuzot, who campaigned on a promise to eliminate bias from the criminal justice system, speaks volumes when he takes the rare decision not to oppose a stay of execution and further proceedings on the allegations. Joining them are clergy of many faiths and other defenders of religious liberty and judicial impartiality to say the Court of Criminal Appeals must stay the execution of a judgment entered by a religious bigot who sullied the honor of our courts when he called Randy Halprin a “k***e” and “f***in’ Jew” and his Latino co-defendants “w*****ks.””
Today’s filing reflects a meeting held between Mr. Halprin’s lawyers and the District Attorney for Dallas County, John Creuzot, on August 29, 2019, to discuss the disturbing new evidence. As the filing notes, the District Attorney conveyed that his office would not oppose Mr. Halprin’s filings, and “also impressed upon Mr. Halprin’s counsel the extraordinary nature of the State’s considered non-opposition.” (Notice, p. 1) In light of the State’s position, attorneys for Mr. Halprin notified the court today that unless new evidence comes to light or the court requests it, they won’t submit any additional filings and ask the court to rule on whether to stay Mr. Halprin’s execution so that these issues can be heard.
Today’s amicus brief filing from over 100 Jewish attorneys admitted to the Texas Bar as well as the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism states, “Texas courts have recognized that the right to an impartial judge is not only a blackletter rule of constitutional law, but also integral to the functioning of the entire Texas judicial system…. In order to maintain the integrity of and restore confidence in the Texas criminal justice system, amici urge this court to … stay the applicant’s scheduled execution, and remand this case to the trial court.” (pp. 4-5)
Citing media reports and two new sworn declarations from longtime friends and colleagues of Judge Cunningham, Mr. Halprin’s Motion for a Stay of Execution, filed with the CCA on August 22, 2019, states: “The Honorable Vickers Cunningham, the presiding judge at Mr. Halprin’s capital trial, is a racist and anti-Semitic bigot who described Mr. Halprin as “that f****n’ Jew” and a “goddamn k**e.” That judge—who decided all pretrial motions, challenges during jury selection, and all objections during the taking of evidence—believed that Jews “needed to be shut down because they controlled all the money and all the power.” He referred to the Latino defendants as “w*****ks.” In general, Judge Cunningham said about his service on the bench, “any ‘n******’ or ‘w*****k’ walking into his courtroom knew they were going to go down.””(Motion for Stay, Exhibit A, p. 1)
Judge Cunningham’s position gave him enormous influence over Mr. Halprin’s capital trial proceedings. The judge exercised his discretion to prevent the jury from hearing compelling mitigation in Mr. Halprin’s case: that Texas officials ranked Mr. Halprin as the “weakest” of the defendants, and labeled him “very submissive.” If jurors had heard this evidence, it is possible they may have spared Mr. Halprin from a death sentence. Jurors in his trial deliberated longer than jurors in the trials of any of his co-defendants who are known as the “Texas 7.”
As the newly-released letter from Jewish community leaders states: “We stand together in our belief that our country’s justice system, and those it employs, must be free of any bias that might hinder its ability to review evidence with impartiality and treat the accused with fairness and dignity. Capital punishment is the most extreme action a government can take against a citizen. State officials must therefore take every step to ensure complete public trust in any death penalty case. How can the public trust that every decision Judge Cunningham made during Mr. Halprin’s trial was fair and free of bias, knowing the comments his friends attribute to him?” (Letter, p. 2)
On August 22, 2019, Mr. Halprin’s attorneys filed a Motion for Stay of Execution with the CCA, which asserts, “respect for the basic ingredient of due process, namely, an opportunity to be allowed to substantiate a claim before it is rejected,” (Motion p. 3) requires a stay. The stay motion argues that the judge’s bias violated Mr. Halprin’s constitutional rights to a fair trial and due process of law.
For more information, or to speak to an attorney, please contact: Tristin Aaron, firstname.lastname@example.org; (718) 938-4078
Links to Briefs and Letters of Support:
Mr. Halprin’s Notice of Non-Opposition & Submission of Matter for Decision can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/y4zpq8tn
Jewish Community Leader Letter: https://tinyurl.com/y4onkpne
Mr. Halprin’s Motion for a Stay of Execution can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/yxwg2bqe