It’s Constitution Day! – But Not in Texas

Today is Constitution Day.  On this day, September 17, in 1787, the US Constitution was signed by a group of men known collectively these days as the “Founding Fathers”.  Yesterday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) celebrated a day early by denying relief to Charles Dean Hood despite the fact that the judge and prosecutor were sleeping together during his trial. 

Charles Dean Hood received a death sentence in 1990 in Collin Country, Texas for the murders of Ronald Williamson and Tracie Lynn Wallace.  The Honorable Verla Sue Holland served as the judge during his trial while Thomas O’Connel—Collin County’s District Attorney—was the leading prosecutor on the case.  Last year O’Connel and Holland revealed that they had maintained a clandestine sexual affair for a long period of time.  Their relationship coincided with Charles Hood’s trial

The affair was first uncovered last June, two weeks before Hood’s scheduled execution, when a Collin County assistant district attorney revealed it in an affidavit.  The affair was subsequently confirmed by O’Connel and Holland during separate official testimonies.  In the meantime, Hood’s execution was postponed, as the state was not able to carry it out before the expiration of his death warrant.

Following the discovery of the affair, Mr. Hood’s case was brought in front of the TCCA for reconsideration.  Although eight of the nine judges on the court had previously worked with Judge Holland, they still chose to review the case.  Yesterday, in a 6-3 vote, in a dense, almost unreadably bureaucratic 3-page opinion, they dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the issue of Holland and O’Connel’s sexual relations should have been raised earlier, a curious interpretation of procedural rules given the fact that neither the judge nor the prosecutor admitted to the affair until mid-2008, when a civil court ordered them to testify under oath.  

In a more detailed 9-page dissent, the three judge minority argued that the issue of the illicit affair could not have been raised earlier because of “… the principals’ longstanding efforts to keep the affair hidden.” No kidding.

But should that even matter?  Did I mention that the judge and prosecutor were sleeping together? … how is that not enough to merit a new trial?  Whatever its tortured logic, the TCCA ruling clearly violates basic fair trial protections established by the Constitution whose 222nd anniversary we celebrate today.

In the aftermath of the verdict, the Texas Defender Service issued a statement, noting that the TCCA decision supports “the perception that justice is skewed in Texas” and that “obvious and outrageous violations of the Constitution are acceptable in death penalty cases.”  The statement also rightly points out that the Court’s ruling “rewards the judge and prosecutor for maintaining a wall of silence about their affair for nearly two decades.”  The Texas Defender Service skillfully sums up the ramifications of the decision by stating “No one would want to be prosecuted for a parking violation – let alone for capital murder — by a district attorney who is sleeping with the judge.”

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29 thoughts on “It’s Constitution Day! – But Not in Texas

  1. I guess the FACTS that:

    a) Hood's DNA and bloody fingerprints were all over the crime scene.
    b) Hood pawned the victims jewelry after the murder
    c) Hood cashed the victims checks after the murder
    d) Hood used the victims credit cards
    e) Hood was captured driving the victim's truck
    f) Hood was convicted by a JURY
    g) Hood was sentenced to dealth by a JURY
    h) Numerous appeals and review have upheld the conviction and sentence

    Mr. Hood is Guilty and will pay for his crime. Sorry you can't face that. The Judge and DA should be reprimanded but the fact they were screwing around has nothing to do with the day Mr. Hood murdered two innocent victims.

  2. Man, your messages are all a big "F*** you!" to AIUSA and to human rights not just for death row inmates but for murder victims' families as well! You claim that executions justify human rights and deters crime 100%, but the truth is, you never care about human rights, AT ALL! As the late Michael Jackson sang, "All I wanna say is that they don't really care about us." :x

  3. I guess the FACTS that:

    a) Hood’s DNA and bloody fingerprints were all over the crime scene.
    b) Hood pawned the victims jewelry after the murder
    c) Hood cashed the victims checks after the murder
    d) Hood used the victims credit cards
    e) Hood was captured driving the victim’s truck
    f) Hood was convicted by a JURY
    g) Hood was sentenced to dealth by a JURY
    h) Numerous appeals and review have upheld the conviction and sentence

    Mr. Hood is Guilty and will pay for his crime. Sorry you can’t face that. The Judge and DA should be reprimanded but the fact they were screwing around has nothing to do with the day Mr. Hood murdered two innocent victims.

  4. Man, your messages are all a big “F*** you!” to AIUSA and to human rights not just for death row inmates but for murder victims’ families as well! You claim that executions justify human rights and deters crime 100%, but the truth is, you never care about human rights, AT ALL! As the late Michael Jackson sang, “All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us.” :x

  5. What? I have some respect for AIUSA and a lot of the work.

    This issue and others regarding the death penalty I do not. I can disagree without saying "F*** you" and that is exactly what I did.

    Opponents of the death penalty want to throw any technicalty in the way of having this man's sentence carried out. I simply pointed out that whether the Judge and DA were sleeping together or not has nothing to do with the fact this man was convicted and would have been convicted. The evidence was legally obtained, all objections legally ruled on etc…

    RIP Michael Jackson.

  6. Oops! All I can say is… I'm truly terribly sorry that I doubted you. I guess we can agree to disagree on that one.

  7. What? I have some respect for AIUSA and a lot of the work.

    This issue and others regarding the death penalty I do not. I can disagree without saying “F*** you” and that is exactly what I did.

    Opponents of the death penalty want to throw any technicalty in the way of having this man’s sentence carried out. I simply pointed out that whether the Judge and DA were sleeping together or not has nothing to do with the fact this man was convicted and would have been convicted. The evidence was legally obtained, all objections legally ruled on etc…

    RIP Michael Jackson.

  8. Oops! All I can say is… I’m truly terribly sorry that I doubted you. I guess we can agree to disagree on that one.

  9. Unfortunately, this is NOT a 'technicalty". It infringes on the notion of "due process". Due process is fondamentally important in the US Constitution. If it can not be garanteed, it infringes on the rights of the defendant.

  10. Brian,

    It's not true that not killing is sufficient to avoid death row in Texas. Leonel Herrera, Cameron Todd Willingham, Carlos DeLuna are three innocent men that state's legal system has killed. Ernest Willis and 8 others have been freed from Texas' death row.

    Given that death people can't appeal their convictions and the many problems with Texas' legal system, to say nothing of the notorious Houston crime lab, it seems likely that many more innocent people have been sentenced to death in Texas. Each one, an innocent life ruined and a real killer going unpunished.

  11. Unfortunately, this is NOT a ‘technicalty”. It infringes on the notion of “due process”. Due process is fondamentally important in the US Constitution. If it can not be garanteed, it infringes on the rights of the defendant.

  12. Brian,

    It’s not true that not killing is sufficient to avoid death row in Texas. Leonel Herrera, Cameron Todd Willingham, Carlos DeLuna are three innocent men that state’s legal system has killed. Ernest Willis and 8 others have been freed from Texas’ death row.

    Given that death people can’t appeal their convictions and the many problems with Texas’ legal system, to say nothing of the notorious Houston crime lab, it seems likely that many more innocent people have been sentenced to death in Texas. Each one, an innocent life ruined and a real killer going unpunished.

  13. Aaron-

    Then post a blog about Leonel Herrera, Cameron Todd Willingham, Carlos DeLuna. If they are infact innocent, then Mr Hood doesn't belong mentioned with those 3 in that Mr Hood is GUILTY.

  14. My point wasn't that Mr Hood is innocent – we won't know until there is a fair trial where the judge and prosecutor aren't making love after arguments have been heard. My point is simply that your statement "Don’t kill anyone in Texas and you won’t need to worry about being sentenced to death" is not true.

  15. Aaron-

    Then post a blog about Leonel Herrera, Cameron Todd Willingham, Carlos DeLuna. If they are infact innocent, then Mr Hood doesn’t belong mentioned with those 3 in that Mr Hood is GUILTY.

  16. My point wasn’t that Mr Hood is innocent – we won’t know until there is a fair trial where the judge and prosecutor aren’t making love after arguments have been heard. My point is simply that your statement “Don’t kill anyone in Texas and you won’t need to worry about being sentenced to death” is not true.

  17. Good morning Aaron.

    I will plea "no contest" and defer to whatever you think or whatever you think you KNOW about Herrera, Willingham and Deluna.

    Mr. Hood (THE SUBJECT OF THIS POST) is GUILTY. The EVIDENCE convicted him regardless of any relationship between the Judge and Prosecutor. Are you suggesting Hood’s DNA and bloody fingerprints found all over the crime scene; Hood pawning the victims jewelry after the murder; Hood cashing the victims checks after the murder; Hood using the victims credit cards; and Hood being captured driving the victim’s truck was all part of some overwhelming conspiracy because the Prosecutor and Judge slept with each other and had it out for this guy? Are you suggesting that collection of and the admission of that evidence in court wasn't scrutinized and challenged and reviewed during appeal after appeal? Were the member's of the Jury (whom were went through adequate voir dire by both prosecutor and the defense counsel) in on this conspiracy as well?

    The judge should be thrown off the bench and maybe even disbarred. The prosecutor should be punished by the state bar and maybe disbarred.

    Mr. Hood is guilty and the affair between the judge and prosecutor is grasping for straws to delay the inevitable.

  18. Good morning Aaron.

    I will plea “no contest” and defer to whatever you think or whatever you think you KNOW about Herrera, Willingham and Deluna.

    Mr. Hood (THE SUBJECT OF THIS POST) is GUILTY. The EVIDENCE convicted him regardless of any relationship between the Judge and Prosecutor. Are you suggesting Hood’s DNA and bloody fingerprints found all over the crime scene; Hood pawning the victims jewelry after the murder; Hood cashing the victims checks after the murder; Hood using the victims credit cards; and Hood being captured driving the victim’s truck was all part of some overwhelming conspiracy because the Prosecutor and Judge slept with each other and had it out for this guy? Are you suggesting that collection of and the admission of that evidence in court wasn’t scrutinized and challenged and reviewed during appeal after appeal? Were the member’s of the Jury (whom were went through adequate voir dire by both prosecutor and the defense counsel) in on this conspiracy as well?

    The judge should be thrown off the bench and maybe even disbarred. The prosecutor should be punished by the state bar and maybe disbarred.

    Mr. Hood is guilty and the affair between the judge and prosecutor is grasping for straws to delay the inevitable.

  19. I think that in this context – that is when the government is deciding whether or not to kill one of its citizens – it is imperative that the trial meet the highest standards of jurisprudence. This trial doesn't even come close.

    The trial's debates over evidence and what the jury was allowed to consider, etc, were all conducted under the direction of the judge who impartiality was spoiled by the fact that she traded sexual favors with the prosecutor.

    If the case is as clear cut as you say then a retrial might well bring about a similar verdict. And maybe even a similar sentence. But meanwhile we are left with serious doubts about whether our justice system is good enough to make life and death decisions.

    That's why I say there should be a (fair) retrial in this case and the death penalty should be abolished (again).

  20. I think that in this context – that is when the government is deciding whether or not to kill one of its citizens – it is imperative that the trial meet the highest standards of jurisprudence. This trial doesn’t even come close.

    The trial’s debates over evidence and what the jury was allowed to consider, etc, were all conducted under the direction of the judge who impartiality was spoiled by the fact that she traded sexual favors with the prosecutor.

    If the case is as clear cut as you say then a retrial might well bring about a similar verdict. And maybe even a similar sentence. But meanwhile we are left with serious doubts about whether our justice system is good enough to make life and death decisions.

    That’s why I say there should be a (fair) retrial in this case and the death penalty should be abolished (again).

  21. Every decision the judge ruled on has been reviewed during appeals. Every objection that was overruled has been reviewed during appeals. There are and have been enough checks and balances in Mr. Hood's trial.

    You are advocating for a cold-blooded, heartless, no remorse having murderer. He had his day in court and the reviews (even to address this inappropriate relationship between the Judge and Prosecutor) have been ruled on.

  22. Every decision the judge ruled on has been reviewed during appeals. Every objection that was overruled has been reviewed during appeals. There are and have been enough checks and balances in Mr. Hood’s trial.

    You are advocating for a cold-blooded, heartless, no remorse having murderer. He had his day in court and the reviews (even to address this inappropriate relationship between the Judge and Prosecutor) have been ruled on.

  23. I'm not advocating for Hood – someone who commits remorseless murder should spend the rest of his life behind bars. I'm advocating for a more just justice system. The fact that the inappropriate relationship was not seen as a trial-wrecking conflict of interest by 6 of 9 judges and the very weak reasoning on display in their opinion is an indication of the limited worth of reviews. If we're going to have the death penalty in our justice system then we need a justice system with checks and balances of a higher quality than these courts have offered.

  24. I’m not advocating for Hood – someone who commits remorseless murder should spend the rest of his life behind bars. I’m advocating for a more just justice system. The fact that the inappropriate relationship was not seen as a trial-wrecking conflict of interest by 6 of 9 judges and the very weak reasoning on display in their opinion is an indication of the limited worth of reviews. If we’re going to have the death penalty in our justice system then we need a justice system with checks and balances of a higher quality than these courts have offered.

  25. Pingback: Texas Death Sentence Overturned; Judge-Prosecutor Affair Overlooked | Human Rights Now - Amnesty International USA Blog