Texas Death Row Inmate Gets Stay of Execution

Ex-judge, prosecutor reportedly admit to affair; Texas court to investigate.

ByScott Michels
September 09, 2008, 10:28 AM

Sept. 9, 2008— -- Texas' highest court stayed the execution today of a death row inmate who claimed that a secret affair between the judge and prosecutor in his 1989 murder trial deprived him of a fair trial.

Though the former judge, Verla Sue Holland, and former district attorney, Tom O'Connell, reportedly admitted today to having a sexual relationship, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the stay based on a technical legal issue unrelated to the reported affair.

Instead, the court said it would reconsider whether jurors in Charles Dean Hood's death penalty trial received proper jury instructions. Hood was scheduled to be executed Wednesday.

The court had rejected a similar claim from Hood's attorneys, but said it would revisit the issue based on new developments in the law.

Hood's lawyers have argued that he was denied a fair trial because they said Holland and O'Connell had an improper sexual relationship.

A local judge on Monday ordered Holland and O'Connell to answer questions under oath. In a letter sent late today to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Hood's lawyers said that Holland and O'Connell admitted in depositions taken Monday and today to having a secret relationship that began several years before Hood's trial.

The letter, which asked for a reprieve, said it was unclear when the relationship ended, but that it continued in the "years leading up to" Hood's case. After the sexual relationship ended, Hood and O'Connell remained close friends, the letter says.

The fact that neither Holland nor O'Connell disclosed the relationship is a "shocking and devastating indictment of the Texas criminal justice system," the letter argues.

Several legal experts have told ABC News that they believe an affair between a judge and a prosecutor under these circumstances would be a clear violation of the constitutional right to a fair trial.

Hood, 39, was scheduled to be executed in June after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal rejected a bid to overturn his conviction, saying Hood had raised the issue of the reported affair too late in the appeals process for it to be considered.

After a flurry of last-minute legal filings, the execution was delayed in June because state prison officials said they had run out of time to carry out the execution by the midnight deadline.

Hood was convicted of the 1989 fatal shooting 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.

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