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The Brief: Dec. 7, 2010

As the death penalty went on trial in Texas on Monday, one side of the courtroom fell silent.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

As the death penalty went on trial in Texas on Monday, one side of the courtroom fell silent.

And it stayed that way, per the direction of Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos.

Lykos ordered her team of prosecutors to "stand mute" — to refrain from cross-examining, objecting or otherwise participating — in District Judge Kevin Fine's first-of-its-kind judicial inquiry into the constitutionality of the death penalty as it's administered in Texas.

Fine, a Democrat, already ruled against the death penalty in the same case — involving a man accused of a 2008 murder and robbery — in March but then rescinded his ruling to allow lawyers to gather more evidence. Many expect Fine to once again side with the defense, which, citing DNA evidence, contends that its client is at risk of being wrongfully executed following a series of prosecutions that have questioned whether the state has put innocent men to death.

On Monday, the defense slammed the prosecution for its silence. "It's arrogant, and it's contemptuous for the state to decide to not participate when they're trying to put my client to death," said defense lawyer Casey Keirnan, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The prosecution, along with the governor and the attorney general, has maintained that the constitutionality of the death penalty is settled law as decided by the Supreme Court, which prosecutor Alan Curry argued Monday before taking his silence.

Fine, after telling Curry that "I'm not allowing you to not participate," let court proceedings resume, allowing the prosecution to listen to arguments and testimony.

The hearing is expected to last two weeks.

CULLED:

  • Last month's Republican rout has left Texas Democrats in Congress and the state Legislature reeling, but the party may have suffered the most damage in county offices, especially in rural areas, in which a previously dominant Democratic presence is fading fast.
  • Houston Mayor Annise Parker has parted company with two key conservatives on the Houston City Council — one of whom, Mayor Pro Tem Anne Clutterbuck, is rumored to be mounting a challenge to Parker in 2011 (a rumor Clutterbuck denies).

"We are keenly aware that we are going to have to work together to get things done. That's not my fear. That will eventually happen. My fear is compromising when we don't have to compromise." — Newly elected Republican state Rep. David Simpson of Longview to the Tyler Morning Telegraph on the challenges Republicans in the Legislature will face next year

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