Texas Death Sentence Overturned; Judge-Prosecutor Affair Overlooked

February 24, 2010

Back on September 16, 2009, the day before the 222nd anniversary of the US Constitution, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) chose NOT to decide whether Texas death row inmate Charles Dean Hood was denied a fair trial because the judge and prosecutor in his case were sleeping together.  The court avoided taking any responsibility for this embarrassing question by ruling that Mr. Hood should have raised that particular issue earlier, even though he couldn’t – the affair wasn’t confirmed until June of 2008. 

Mr. Hood’s execution had nonetheless been postponed because of a separate issue, a claim that the jury did not properly hear mitigating evidence about his harsh childhood that might have led them to vote for a sentence other than death.  And it was on this considerably less sexy claim that the TCCA today threw out his death sentence and ruled that Charles Dean Hood should get another sentencing hearing. 

Today’s ruling contradicts a decision the TCCA made on the same issue in 2007, when they rejected a new sentencing trial.  And it once again evades the larger question:  Did the judge and prosecutor’s sexual relationship compromise Mr. Hood’s right to a fair trial?   Isn’t this affair an “obvious and outrageous constitutional violation” (as Andrea Keilen of the Texas Defender Service put it)?  A petition on THAT question is now before the US Supreme Court, supported by an impressive array of former judges and prosecutors, including a former Texas Governor.