Friday, September 5, 2008

Condemned Man's Trial was Tainted

The New York Times reports on an interesting legal battle going on in Texas. A convicted murderer, Charles D. Hood, 39, is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday for the murder and robbery in 1989 of a couple he lived with in Plano, just north of Dallas. So far nothing out of the ordinary; sounds like business as usual for Texas.

The problem is that long-standing rumors have been circulating that the judge, Verla Sue Holland, and the Collin County district attorney at the time, Thomas S. O’Connell Jr., were having an affair during the 1990 trial. Blocked by a solid wall of silence, Greg Wiercioch, one of Mr. Hood’s lawyers finally got a break this year.

In June, Mr. Hood’s lawyers got a sworn affidavit from a former assistant district attorney, Matthew Goeller, who said the romantic relationship “was common knowledge in the district attorney’s office, and the Collin County bar, in general,” at the time of the trial. Mr. Goeller said the affair was going on when he came to the office in 1987 and continued through 1993.

Naturally motions were put forth earlier in the summer, but with time running out any obstacle could be disastrous.

That motion landed in the courtroom of Judge Robert T. Dry, who last week set a hearing date for two days after the scheduled execution, remarking, “In reality, you are exploring a civil lawsuit for the estate of Mr. Hood.” Judge Dry also acknowledged that he knew Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell well. “It is likely that every local judge knows them,” he wrote.

On Wednesday, Judge Dry suddenly recused himself, saying he had also been close friends and business partners with Judge Holland’s former husband, Earl Holland, who is now dead.

The upshot is this:

On Wednesday, 22 prominent former judges and prosecutors — among them the former F.B.I. director William S. Sessions — urged Gov. Rick Perry to put off the execution to allow more time for a hearing to determine if the claim of an affair is true.

It makes me wonder why is it so difficult to play by the rules? If we tell people don't go around killing each other, then turn around and kill them with lethal injection, I say something's wrong. If we demand that the citizens adhere to certain norms, but the judges and prosecutors do whatever they want, I say something's wrong. And what is this wall of silence? Isn't that kind of covering up illegal? We're talking not only about people's lives, but about the reputation of the great state of Texas. Judge Dry recusing himself at the eleventh hour, the presiding judge and prosecutor carrying on during the trial, these are shabby behaviors which we cannot afford. I understand capital punishment is legal, but it has to be administered in as clean and upright a manner as possible. Otherwise we take an already barbaric practice and turn it into a true travesty of justice.

What's your opinion?


  1. Jury convicted him, not the judge.

    Jury recommended the death penalty, not the judge.

    So your point again is?

    Maybe he shouldn't have decided to be a murderer?

  2. so if you were going before the court for whatever reason, you wouldn't mind if the judge and the opposing council were married? no sign of conflict of interest to you there at all, eh?

    i wonder, what exactly do you think the judge (or the prosecuting attorney, for that matter) does?

  3. There is a sign of possible conflict of interest but that's why we have juries and not Napoleonic Code where judges and prosecutors mostly decide everything like in Mexico and many other nations.

    The possible conflict of interest may or may not have been an issue.

    A jury strongly convicted him to the point of recommending execution.

    Most all murderers on death row claim innocence until their grave.

    Tangentially, might I ask if you recall to whom Mary Matalin is married? Some might have seen a huge conflict of interest there, but it didn't seem to happen, even if I think the Democratic and Republican parties are two heads of the same beast...

  4. I was imidiatly thinking of James Carville as well, Thomas.

  5. This was in Texas? Why am I not surprised...

  6. what i immediately started thinking about was that famous quote of how justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done --- that the mere appearance of injustice, or of a conflict of interest, can be as damaging as the real thing.

    that is a huge deal to me, because if the courts and legal system can't be respected as entirely impartial, by everybody, then people will stop respecting or even caring about the law too.

    there are already huge sets of people who feel they can't expect justice out of the courts and police, many of them for good reason. that is a bad thing in my eyes, we don't need to make it any worse.

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  8. Edited because sometimes I type faster than I think - Earl

    Thomas said the following:

    "The possible conflict of interest may or may not have been an issue."

    Right there you admit that it may have been an issue. I'm not saying it was an issue, but there are a whole bunch of ways that a partial judge can affect the outcome of a trial.

    I would like to think that everything about a trial would need to be perfect to dole out a capital punishment sentence. And life is rarely perfect.