A judge has ruled that death row inmate Charles Dean Hood should get another chance to argue before the state's highest criminal court that he did not get a fair trial – even though it has been 19 years since his case went to court.
State District Judge Greg Brewer on Friday ruled that Hood had not waited too late to raise the issue of an improper relationship between the judge who presided over his trial, Verla Sue Holland, and then-Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell.
The state's "hands are unclean," said Brewer, who was instructed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to examine the issue.
"It is the appearance of impartiality that is damaging to the public's confidence in the integrity of the judicial process," the judge wrote.
Hood was convicted in the 1989 robbery and murder of Ronald Williamson and Tracie Lynn Wallace in Plano. For years, his attorneys had tried to raise the issue of whether the relationship between judge and prosecutor had affected the trial, but his attorneys said they had little to go on other than speculation.
Hood came within a couple of hours of being executed last summer when his attorneys raised the issue again in a last-ditch effort as his death warrant expired.
A couple of weeks before Hood's June execution date, the defense attorneys found a former assistant district attorney who filed an affidavit indicating he was aware of the relationship.
Then in September, Hood's attorneys finally got the proof they needed by forcing depositions from the two parties under a civil procedure. At that time, Holland and O'Connell admitted to having a sexual relationship before Hood's trial, which had not been revealed to the defense at trial or during years of appeals.
Prosecutors claimed Hood had waited too long to raise the issue of judicial bias.
In November, after staying Hood's next execution date to consider another issue, and after the case received nationwide attention, the court of criminal appeals asked the lower court to make a recommendation on the timeliness issue.
In his ruling, Brewer said Hood's legal team exercised "reasonable diligence" during the years, and that prosecutors' claim that the defense had moved too slowly was not valid.
"Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell did not abide by their ethical and constitutional duties to disclose the fundamental conflict caused by their relationship
," the judge wrote.
Attorneys for Hood were unavailable for comment; assistant district attorney John Rolater declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
The case goes back to the court of criminal appeals for consideration on the judicial bias claim.