Legal Ethics

Hearing to Determine If Defense Counsel and Judge Had 'Secret Deal' re Capital Murder Defendant

A mitigation specialist testified yesterday in an unusual court hearing that defense lawyers for a man convicted in a Texas capital murder case pressured him to plead guilty and didn’t explore and effectively present evidence that could have helped him avoid Death Row.

At one point, court-appointed attorneys William H. “Bill” Ray and Tim Moore showed Stephen Barbee gruesome crime scene photos in an effort to persuade him to plead guilty, mitigation specialist Amanda Maxwell testified at the Fort Worth state-court hearing, reports the Star-Telegram.

“They found him disgusting because he cried,” Maxwell testified, adding: “They believed he was a wussy.”

A lengthy Associated Press article notes that the entire capital murder trial, including Barbee’s death sentence, was concluded in three days in 2006.

Among the issues to be considered in the two-day proceeding that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Tarrant County District Judge Louis Sturns to hold this week is whether Barbee’s defense was ineffective because of a claimed “secret deal” between at least one of his lawyers and the then-trial judge, who is now a prosecutor, to move cases along more quickly.

Others who have responded to the allegations and testified so far deny that the trial judge and the two lawyers did anything wrong.

Then-state District Judge Bob Gill, who is now an assistant Tarrant County district attorney, said he thought Ray and Moore did a good job defending a difficult case before him, the Star-Telegram reports.

An earlier Star-Telegram article reports that Ray told the newspaper there is no basis for claims by Barbee’s appellate attorney, A. Richard Ellis of California, that his client didn’t get due process and a fair trial because of a conflict of interest on the part of his trial counsel.

“I did not have a deal with Judge Gill at all to do what he’s saying,” Ray told the Star-Telegram concerning the contention by Ellis. “It’s just a complete and total lie.”

The Los Angeles Times also has a story.

Updated at 3:21 p.m. to clarify that Maxwell is the mitigation specialist.

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