In 1990 Charles Hood was convicted of a heinous double murder in Texas. The presiding judge determined that Mr. Hood should be put to death for his crimes. At the time of the trial and sentencing, rumours had been openly circulating in the legal community that trial Judge Verla Sue Holland was intimately involved with the prosecuting attorney in this capital case.
It took 20 years for Mr. Hood’s legal team to uncover sufficient evidence of their affair to go back to the Court to argue that the relationship between the trial judge and the prosecutor represented a conflict of interest and an apprehension of bias such that Mr. Hood should be granted a new trial.
In 2007 the Appeals Court refused to grant a new hearing, stating that it was now too late to overturn the sentencing decision. Chagrined but undaunted, Mr. Hood applied to the United States Supreme Court.
With the assistance of an expert team of attorneys and ethicists ( 51 in total, including former judges and leading prosectors), Hood filed a comprehensive and scholarly brief to the highest court. Last month, in less than a dozen words, the Supremes declined to hear the case. Why? Well, perhaps because the Texas Appeal Court agreed to take a second look at Hood’s case just before the Supremes weighed in. The Appeal Court still declined to consider the trial judge’s affair, but nevertheless, ordered a new penalty hearing based on an error in the trial judge’s jury instructions.
Those of us who are cynical might say that the State of Texas was afraid of the scrutiny of the USSC. Mr. Hood’s penalty rehearing has not yet taken place and he remains on death row. Her Ladyship noted that had she been asked to recuse herself during the trial, she would have!
Did you know there were 52 executions in the US in 2009, 24 of those in the State of Texas? Death penalty abolitionists say that as of 2005, 119 innocent inmates were released from death row.