It's nearly unfathomable to me that Hood's execution might occur without the prosecutor and judge in the case ever being required to answer for the record whether they had sexual relations during his trial. In a reader survey last week, 87% of Grits readers (205 out of 235 respondents) said that if the prosecutor and judge were having a sexual relationship, he deserves a new trial. Ineffably, though, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did not agree.
Hood's attorneys contend his trial judge and one of the prosecutors in the case were involved in an improper and legally unethical romance at the time that tainted Hood's trial in 1990.
Retired Judge Verla Sue Holland and then-Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell have declined to address the allegations.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court and where Holland was a judge in the mid-1990s, rejected Hood's efforts to appeal on the grounds of the alleged relationship, citing procedural reasons for the rejection but not addressing the merits of the accusations.
"It is now apparent that the principals involved in the conduct that forms the basis of ... Hood's claim of judicial bias will remain mute until Mr. Hood is executed," Hood's attorneys said in their latest motion to the trial court and the appeals court seeking to block the setting of the date.
Lawyers A. Richard Ellis and Gregory Wiercioch noted both Holland and O'Connell "have been remarkably silent" and neither has denied the allegations "that they were involved in an intimate relationship ... that they themselves took extraordinary measures to keep secret."
They also accused the pair of refusing to cooperate with Hood's investigation.
"This strategy of silence is understandable — if ethically and morally indefensible," the prisoner's lawyers said.
To me this isn't an issue of being for or against the death penalty, nor even a question of Hood's guilt or innocence. It's more about preserving a semblance of integrity for the justice system. If the state's willing to enact its harshest punishment in such a case without even examining possible collusion by the judge and prosecutor (they don't call it "pillow talk" for nothing), it all but destroys the system's public credibility. It's one thing for the affair to have occurred at the time - that would represent mere misconduct by two individuals. But it's quite another for appellate courts to know of the allegations after the fact and still allow the execution to move forward without requiring they be vetted. That seems to put an official stamp on the repugnant idea that such conflict of interest could be tolerated.
Finally, if the affair is ever proven - and the principals do not deny it happened, they just don't confirm it - IMO Judge Holland and Tom O'Connell deserve at a minimum to be ridden out of the State Bar on a rail. No one should be licensed to practice law who conceals such information in a death penalty case.
RELATED: See Rick Casey's column on the Hood case, and from the Dallas News, see "Ethics questions in Charles Dean Hood case," in which the editorial board opines that:
The public deserves more than avoidance. This is more than a question of guilt or innocence of one man. Rather, the judiciary must recognize the cloud of suspicion that hovers and the need to clear the air.
Failure to do so risks casting doubt on the quality of justice for the entire period in which Tom O'Connell was DA and Sue Holland presided over cases brought by his office. The integrity of other cases is drawn into question, and that is an affront to a host of crime victims.