Weighting the Scales of Justice

Last year one of Wood's high-powered lawyers asked Dean to shave a year off Wood's sentence and grant him early release from probation. Dean refused but instead agreed to a "postcard" probation in which Wood could simply write to the court once a year. Wood, now 46 years old, has remained free.

The same can't be said for Tyrone Brown, another man who came before Dean.

Back in 1990, when Brown was 17, he and a friend pulled a gun on a Dallas man and demanded his wallet. After taking $2, they handed the wallet back and fled but were quickly caught.

When Brown appeared before Dean, he didn't have a high-powered lawyer. Brown was one of five children who grew up in a poor home and never finished high school. The Baptist church he attended was the little Telstar Baptist Church in Dallas, which cannot claim a single prominent member.

Brown, who had a few minor juvenile offenses on his record, pleaded guilty, and he, too, was sentenced to 10 years' probation.

Like Wood, he also violated probation, although only once, and he only got caught smoking marijuana. But when Brown was called before Dean, what happened to him was markedly different from what happened to Wood. Dean sentenced Brown to life in prison, then added, "Good luck, Mr. Brown." Brown's court-appointed attorney, Matt Fry, didn't protest.

Nora Brown, Tyrone's mother, recalled that she broke down when her son called her with the news. "'Mama,' he said, 'they gave me life.' I just started crying, you know, and I started screaming. And I said 'Baby, how can they give you life. For what?' "

"20/20" correspondent Jim Avila spoke to Dean, who is running for re-election, during a campaign event in Dallas. Avila asked the judge about why he ruled so differently in the two cases. Dean insisted the law and the "ethical code of judicial conduct says I can't talk about any case at any point."

However, Seanna Willing, the executive director of the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, told "20/20" Dean is incorrect. She said there is nothing to prevent a judge from talking about cases that are no longer pending.

Wood has finished his probation and is a free man. Brown has been in prison more than 16 years. He's struggled with depression, tried committing suicide, and got into trouble after joining a gang and fighting with prison guards. In recent years, he has settled down, and now says he spends time reading and writing poetry. He's eligible for parole in 2009.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...