Court Rejects Appeal For Retrial After Judge-DA Affair

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Dallas, TX—The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on Wednesday that a death-row inmate will not be allowed to seek a new trial, even though the judge in his original trial has admitted to having an affair with the prosecutor.

Charles Dean Hood, who was convicted of murdering Tracie Lynn Wallace, 26, and her boyfriend, Ronald Williamson, 46, in 1990, had requested a new trial on the grounds that his constitutional rights to an impartial trial had been violated. Hood’s trial judge, Verla Sue Holland, and the former Collin County6 district attorney Tom O’Connell, had been involved in a romantic relationship from 1987 until 1993. According to former assistant district attorney Matthew Goeller, the relationship was “common knowledge,” and it was in fact on that point that Hood’s appeal was rejected.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Hood’s attorneys knew about the affair, and that the fact they didn’t raise objections or concerns earlier implied their tacit approval of Holland as the trial judge. Since they understood the nature of the relationship between Holland and O’Connell, and yet did not request that the judge recuse herself, it was therefore too late for them to bring up an appeal on those grounds after conviction.

“Our argument is that they had this information and should have raised it in the earlier writ,” said current prosecutor John Rolater, the chief of Collin County’s appellate division.

Hood had been seeking a new trial, but the decision made by a lower court, in earlier appeals, was overturned by the Criminal Appeals Court.

Holland and O’Connell have not been publicly disciplined by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct or the Texas State Bar. Holland was a state district judge from 1981-96, then moved to the Court of Criminal Appeals. She resigned in 2001. O’Connell was the county’s elected D.A. From 1975-82, and from 1987-2002.

Hood has maintained his innocence in the killings of Wallace and Williamson. He had been a bouncer at a topless club in Indiana when he was arrested for the murders. At the time of the arrest, he was driving Williamson’s $70,000 Cadillac, and his fingerprints were at the murder scene at Williamson’s home in a Dallas suburb.

Hood had been granted a stay of execution from an Austin-based appeals court, albeit on different grounds, as he had also filed an appeal claiming that the jury had been given instructions that were flawed. Just one day before he had been scheduled to be put to death, the stay of execution was granted. His new execution date has not been set, and Hood has another appeal regarding jury instructions which is still pending.

 

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