Weighting the Scales of Justice

Do you believe the scales of justice tilt in favor of the rich and powerful? To explore this question, "20/20" went to Texas to examine the fate of two men who came before the same judge.

Alex Wood was accused of killing a male prostitute in Dallas in 1995. He pleaded not guilty and went to trial. According to prosecutor Rick Jordan, the evidence against Wood was incontrovertible: He had shot an unarmed man in the back.

But just as the jury was about to conclude its deliberations, Jordan struck a plea bargain: In exchange for a guilty plea, Wood would be given 10 years of probation and no jail time. Jordan's explanation for striking such a lenient deal? He believed the jury was sympathetic to Wood, and Jordan worried it might acquit Wood altogether.

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Maybe it would have. Wood had no criminal history and came from a wealthy and well-connected Texas family. Wood's father, the Rev. John Alvin Wood, is a retired pastor of the First Baptist Church of Waco and a former regent of Baylor University. He's also a big game hunter and fossil collector whose private museum was recently featured in National Geographic.

Wood's sister is married to eight-term congressman Chet Edwards, whose vast district, the 17th Congressional District of Texas, extends from the Fort Worth suburbs in the north to the Bryan-College Station area in the south.

Wood himself dabbled in the genteel business of breeding and showing dogs, specifically Pharaoh Hounds -- an exotic breed whose lineage can be traced back to ancient Egypt.

At trial, Wood was represented by top defense attorneys who described the victim as violent and aggressive, and argued that Wood shot the man in self-defense. Even more important, given the location of the trial -- the Bible Belt South -- they brought in several prominent members of the Baptist church as character witnesses.

Among them was O.S. Hawkins, the exceedingly urbane pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and a true celebrity among Baptist officials. Said Jordan of some of the women jury members, "When O.S. Hawkins came in, it was like they wanted to crawl over the rail and just kiss the ring."

Strategic Move by the Prosecutor

Another reason Jordan agreed to the plea was that he expected Wood to violate probation and end up in jail anyway.

Wood did, indeed, violate probation. First, he tested positive for cocaine use, and shortly after that he and another man were arrested when they were found with crack cocaine in one of Chet Edwards' cars. Citing the failed drug test and the arrest, prosecutors went to Judge Keith Dean, the original trial judge, and asked him to revoke Wood's probation.

Dean, who serves at the 265th Criminal District Court of Dallas County, and who has been elected to the bench four times, is described as a good, committed judge. But he allowed Wood to remain out on bail for several months, during which time Wood failed two more drug tests.

In the end, Dean let Wood enter a private inpatient treatment center rather than go to jail. In another lucky break, prosecutors decided not to pursue the crack charges against Wood.

But Wood continued to get into trouble -- and continued to escape the consequences. In a dispute over a puppy, dog trainer Margaret Worth said Wood broke into her home. After Wood's father intervened, Worth agreed not to press charges.

Two Court Cases, Same Judge, Varied Treatment

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