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TribBlog: Access Denied

"Sad and tawdry" affair between judge and prosecutor or not, the U.S. Supreme Court will not hear Charles Dean Hood's case.

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Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear the case of Charles Dean Hood, the former bouncer at a topless club who was convicted of killing his boss and his boss's girlfriend. Hood sought a new trial based on an affair between the judge and the prosecutor in his death penalty case. That means Hood's conviction will stand, though in late February, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the Collin County man a new sentencing hearing to review his punishment.

The CCA decision came on the heels of Hood's Supreme Court appeal and national scrutiny of his case —and after the court had already declined to hear a separate appeal in September, saying that Hood “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." Hood counts among his advocates former Texas governor and death penalty supporter Mark White, who filed an amicus brief on his behalf and urged the nation's high court to take the case to "reinforce not only the standards that are to be applied in Texas courts, but in courts across the country, and strengthen the faith that the American people have in their judicial system."

The CCA's February ruling, which did not mention the affair, cited 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." Based on the faulty jury instruction claim, Hood recieved a reprieve the day before he was scheduled to die in September 2008.

Hood initially 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. Texas Monthly reported on the "sad and tawdry" relationship between the judge, Verla Sue Holland (who went on to sit on the Court of Criminal Appeals from 1996 to 2001) and the prosecutor, Thomas S. O’Connell Jr., a man who “never stayed the night” and once gave his judicial paramour a chafing dish as a gift. Last September, that court, which still seats eight of Holland’s former colleagues, declined to hear an appeal in his case. During testimony last fall, Holland and O'Connell admitted to their involvement while Hood's case was before Holland in district court.

Hood's attorneys offered the following statement:

"We are disheartened that the United States Supreme Court ruled not to hear the case of Charles Hood in which the trial judge and district attorney who prosecuted Hood engaged in a secret, long-term, extra-marital affair. This is particularly disappointing given that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to date has ignored this obvious and outrageous constitutional violation.  Dozens of former state and federal prosecutors and judges and the nation's leading legal ethicists have criticized the handling of this case by the Texas death penalty system.  No one should be prosecuted for a parking ticket let alone for capital murder by the district attorney who has had a sexual affair with the judge handling the case and despite the Court's decision today, we will continue to zealously represent Mr. Hood as we believe his case was marred by a fundamental injustice."

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Courts Criminal justice Texas Court Of Criminal Appeals Texas death row