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TribBlog: Judges Gone Wild [Updated]

In an unexpected reversal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has thrown out Charles Dean Hood's death sentence on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court appeal and national media attention.

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[Update: In an unexpected reversal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has thrown out Charles Dean Hood's death sentence on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court appeal and national media attention.

Hood, who was convicted of killing "his boss and his boss's girlfriend," challenged the 1990 ruling at the state's highest criminal court because of a rumored affair between the prosecutor and the judge who heard his case. That judge, Verla Sue Holland, went on to serve on the CCA until 2001. Eight of her former colleague still sit on the court. In September, the court declined to hear his appeal in a 6-3 ruling, saying Hood had "taken too long to raise the issue" of whether the dalliance "amounted to a conflict of interest."

Today's 5-4 decision, which grants the Collin County man a new sentencing hearing, doesn't mention the affair. The court attributes about-face to the "murky waters" surrounding "the Texas death-penalty sentencing scheme," specifically noting that a jury instruction in Hood's trial did "not allow jurors to give meaningful consideration and full effect to the mitigating evidence presented."]

The New York Times seems intent on fast-tracking the Texas judiciary’s anointment as the national poster child for judges behaving badly. A Supreme Court appeal has breathed new life into a two-decade old scandal (this one with details a little less banal than a judge’s strict adherence to closing time) and inspired Adam Liptak’s latest legal column.

That would be the “sad and tawdry” affair, reported on by Texas Monthly in 2008, between the judge and the prosecutor in a 1990 death penalty case, where Charles Dean Hood was sentenced to death. The prosecutor, Thomas S. O’Connell Jr., was a man who “never stayed the night” and once gave his judicial paramour a chafing dish as a gift. The judge, Verla Sue Holland, went on to the Court of Criminal Appeals, where she served from 1996 to 2001.

In September, that court, which still seats eight of Holland’s former colleagues, ruled that the Collin County man “had taken too long to raise the issue of whether a love affair between a judge and a prosecutor amounted to a conflict of interest,” and declined to hear an appeal in his case. Holland and O’Connell, who were until then only rumored to have been involved, finally fessed up to their assignations in testimony last fall.

The piece concludes with this kicker:

To review the bidding: Campaign spending may undermine the integrity of the judicial system. The same goes for a gag gift of confectionary genitalia. But a love affair between the judge and prosecutor in a death penalty case is, in Texas, at least, another matter.

Do I smell yet another editorial page rebuke of the Lone Star State’s beleaguered Court of Criminal Appeals?

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