Texas Inmate Says Judge, Prosecutor Dated

Death row inmate says he was denied a fair trial because judge, prosecutor dated

BySCOTT MICHELS

June 13, 2008— -- A death row inmate's conviction should be overturned because the judge who oversaw his double murder trial allegedly had a secret affair with the prosecutor, a court appeal claims.

Lawyers for Charles Hood, who is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, say in papers filed in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Hood didn't receive a fair trial because of the alleged relationship between former judge Verla Sue Holland and Tom O'Connell, the former Collin County district attorney.

"The wall of silence that has long protected Judge Holland must now come down," the appeal maintains.

"The relationship implies that some sort of unfairness is coming out. There's going to be some partiality or favoritism toward the district attorney," said Gregory Wiercioch, Hood's lead attorney. "The judiciary has to be clean. There can't be any hint that the public doesn't have the utmost confidence in the judiciary."

Neither Holland, who is now retired, nor O'Connell, who practices law in Plano, Texas, responded to phone messages. Neither was married at the time of their alleged relationship, though the appeal claims that they took steps to hide it.

Matthew Goeller, a former assistant district attorney in Collin County, said in a sworn statement that the alleged relationship between Holland and O'Connell was "common knowledge," and may cast "a reasonable doubt" on Holland's ability to act impartially.

The appeal claims that the alleged relationship violated Hood's right to a fair trial under both the U.S. and Texas constitutions and that Holland had a duty to recuse herself from the case.

If the allegations are true, "There's no serious question here," said Monroe Freedman, a professor at Hofstra Law School and a leading expert on legal ethics. "I don't think there's any question at all that Mr. Hood did not have a constitutionally fair trial. He's about to be killed without having had a real trial."

Hood was convicted of the 1989 shooting and killing of his boss, Ronald Williamson, and Williamson's girlfriend, Traci Wallace. Hood was arrested in Indiana a day after the killing. He had Williamson's car, jewelry, camera, wallet, credit cards and clothing on him at the time of the arrest, according to the Texas Attorney General's office.

Jeffrey Garon, an assistant district attorney in Collin County, said the office had no comment. A lawyer in the state attorney general's post-conviction department also had no comment.

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