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Death Penalty

Texas Judge Halts Planned 6 PM Execution, Appeals Court Overrules, Clock Ticks

Posted Jun 17, 2008 5:54 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Updated: Barely an hour before Charles Dean Hood was scheduled to be put to death by the state of Texas at 6 p.m. tonight, a Collin County judge withdrew his execution warrant, in the first of a series of dramatic developments as the evening progressed.

Prosecutors immediately sought a reversal of the judge's decision withdrawing the warrant, and Hood reportedly was kept in the execution area as officials waited to see whether they could proceed before midnight with his lethal injection. At 9:18 p.m., the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rescinded State District Judge Curt Henderson's decision, saying in a written order (PDF) that he didn't have authority to stop the execution, explains the Associated Press.

Hence, it appeared that Hood might still be executed before midnight, when the execution warrant reportedly expires. Late in the evening, though, the situation was still unresolved, writes the Austin American-Statesman.

"Only in Texas," Lawrence Fox, who teaches law classes at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, tells the American-Statesman. "If we're going to have the death penalty in America, then we better conduct the proceedings in a pristine way."

As the clock ticked past 11:30 p.m., Hood's counsel confirmed in an e-mail relayed to ABAJournal.com by a spokesperson that the execution might still take place:

"Attorney Greg Wiercioch, one of Hood's attorneys, was informed earlier tonight by Judge [John] Ovard, the regional presiding judge who replaced Judge Henderson following Henderson's recusal, that he was contacted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals about the pending litigation in the Hood case," the e-mail states. "Specifically, Judge Ovard relayed that Presiding Judge Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals contacted Ovard and urged him to sign the order withdrawing Judge Henderson's earlier order modifying execution date, which would clear the way for Hood's execution."

But then, as the midnight hour was about to strike, Hood seemingly got another reprieve—at least until tomorrow. The spokesperson said in another e-mail that the execution apparently had been halted, because there wasn't enough time left today.

Lawyers for the convicted double murderer (he says he is innocent) initially prevailed before Henderson today when they pushed for investigation, via discovery requests, of an alleged affair between the trial judge and a prosecutor. "Henderson withdrew the execution warrant after defense attorneys for the inmate had sought any correspondence in the Collin County district attorney's office that could be related to accusations of a long-standing romantic relationship between one of Hood's prosecutors and the judge who presided over his trial in 1990," AP explained.

Only yesterday, a Texas appeals court refused to delay Hood's execution under much the same argument, denying a habeas petition on procedural grounds, as discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post.

Updated at midnight June 18 to include the latest information from Hood's counsel.

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