Wednesday, September 10, 2008

JUDGE WATCH: Secret Love Affair Between Trial Judge and DA Stops Execution?

Charles Dean Hood was scheduled to be executed today for the 1989 killings of Tracie Wallace and Ronald Williamson. Hood's been staring the death penalty in the face for almost twenty years.

Yesterday, things changed.

The highest criminal court in the state, the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, issued a stay of execution on Execution Eve, purportedly to consider arguments made in his criminal appeal that the jury got bad instructions on the law, way back when.

However, many are thinking the real reason that Charles Dean Hood lives to fight another day is because of a civil suit filed on his behalf, which enabled his attorneys to take the sworn testimony of the judge who presided over his trial as well as the prosecutor.

The Secret Love Affair

What's the big deal about these depositions? Well, it appears that courthouse gossip was true.

Former Collin County Judge Verla Sue Holland and Collin County District Attorney Thomas O'Connell reportedly admitted to being romantically involved during the time period when the Hood case was tried. It was a secret they'd kept all these years.

Here's a part of the letter that Gregory Wiercloch, Hood's attorney, wrote to Governor Rick Perry:

“Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell confirmed that they kept the relationship secret .... She never disclosed it to a single litigant or lawyer who appeared before her, and she never recused herself from hearing a single case because of her affair with the elected district attorney.... Similarly, Mr. O’Connell never disclosed the romantic relationship to any of his adversaries nor did he recuse himself or his office from prosecuting a single case because of his affair with Judge Holland.”

Last week, the Texas Attorney General asked for a reprieve, so the Secret Love Affair rumors could be investigated.

Defense Attorney Nightmare

Talk about a criminal defense attorney's nightmare! You're trying a murder case with the possibility of death row, and the Judge and the prosecutor are an item. It's the stuff of a Law & Order episode.

The Brave Soul

How did all this happen? It appears that an attorney who worked as an assistant DA in Collin County during the time of the Hood trial had the courage and integrity to step forward and provide Hood's civil lawyers with a sworn affidavit, swearing that it was common knowledge at the time that there was a rumored romance between the trial judge and the prosecutor in the case.

This affidavit gave Hood's civil attorneys the legal ammo they needed to move the court for these depositions to be taken, in the face of arguments against them.

It's true that Judge Brewer, presiding over the civil case, then had the fortitude to allow the depositions to proceed - with a gag order. However, it took a lot of spunk for that attorney to provide that affidavit for all the world to see -- including fellow attorneys who may decide to ostracize this whistleblower.

Editorials are being written about giving credit to Judge Brewer -- it would be nice to see some hat-tipping to this brave attorney, too.

The Underlying Crime

What was Hood's crime? Hood (now 39) was found guilty and sentenced to death for shooting to death Ron Williamson, his boss. and Williamson's girlfriend, Tracie Wallace, along with stealing Williamson's car and credit cards, along with some jewelry. Hood was arrested in Indiana, and returned to Texas for trial. Hood still maintains his innocence.

Reuters.Com (
New York Times (
DallasMorningNews.Com (

Monday, September 08, 2008

CRIME NEWS: Texas' Criminal History Records are Really, Really Inaccurate

You watch CSI, or NCIS, or any one of a number of crime shows on TV, and there they are: huge databases of information on folk who have been arrested for crimes in all sorts of jurisdictions.

Federal, state, city,military - heck, they'll even pull up someone who's been busted overseas somewhere. And, it's so fast, too: the screen zips thru file after file, and suddenly stops on an exact match (who's usually the guest star for that episode).

Well, those in the know have long recognized that this isn't reality -- but never more so than this past month, when the Texas Department of Public Safety publicly admitted that its criminal history records database is far from complete. According to Angie Klein, who manages this database, it's only got 69% of the state's actual criminal records.

If this were a report card, DPS would be getting a D+.

What's going on? Counties aren't reporting, for a variety of reasons. And, of course, prosecutors are really upset by this. They may not have information regarding past criminal histories before offering up a nice plea deal.

Bottom line, what does this mean? There's a 31% chance that a criminal record isn't going to be in the system.

Think about it. The good news: you're pulled over on suspicion of driving drunk and there's a 31% chance the cop's not going to know about a past DWI on your record. Or, you're arrested for burglary: there's a 31% chance that a past conviction for burglary back in Houston isn't going to pop up on your record.

Of course, you and your criminal defense attorney need to make sure that any acquittals or dismissals of your case are recorded in the system. You don't want those old criminal charges to pop up when you are applying for a lease, or a job, or buying a gun, or adopting a child ....

Source:, August 22, 2008