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Death Penalty

Executed Man’s Wife Sues Judge Who Closed Courthouse Door

Posted Nov 7, 2007 6:49 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Updated: Already facing a legal ethics complaint, a Texas appellate judge who refused to accept an eleventh-hour late filing in a death penalty appeal is now being sued by the executed man's wife.

The federal suit accuses Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller of violating Michael Richard's civil rights by refusing to keep the courthouse open 20 minutes after its normal closing hour on Sept. 25 so that the appeal could be filed, according to the Associated Press and the Texas Moratorium Network law blog.

Richard was executed later that evening—the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a Kentucky lethal injection case that has effectively created a national death penalty moratorium.

“He was denied due process. She basically stopped his appeal. Stopped his appeal from reaching the court,” Richard's wife, Marsha, tells Houston television station KHOU, which has posted an article about the case on its Web site.

“Why not give him a few extra minutes? We’re talking about literally somebody’s life,” says Marsha Richard.

As discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, Keller's refusal to cooperate with Richard's counsel's request to wait for the filing has generated a firestorm of criticism—and a new policy, announced yesterday, that the court will now accept e-mail filings in death penalty appeals and similar emergency matters.

Richard's counsel says a computer breakdown caused the filing delay. Keller says she wasn't aware of the issue.

Updated at 7:04 p.m. CST.

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