Criminal Justice

Will Prosecutor and Judge’s Affair Affect a Second Murder Case?

  • Print

Timothy David Nixon may not even be aware of the controversy surrounding the judge who presided over his trial and conviction for murder.

Nixon was sentenced to 99 years in prison for killing his mother in Collin County, Texas, the Dallas Morning News reports. The presiding judge was Verla Sue Holland, and the district attorney was Tom O’Connell. The two officials admitted an affair in depositions being cited in an appeal in another case, that of death-row inmate Charles Dean Hood. He contends in a habeas corpus petition that the secret relationship violated his constitutional right to a fair trial.

The newspaper was unable to contact Nixon for comment. He is one of many convicts—the exact number is not known—who may have been prosecuted and convicted by O’Connell in Holland’s courtroom without knowledge of the affair or its possible impact on their cases.

Legal ethics expert Lawrence Fox told the newspaper that the state should appoint lawyers for defendants to challenge their convictions based on the affair. A partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath in Philadelphia, Fox is also an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said he would need to know more about the facts of the cases before deciding whether a review was warranted.

In any event, the number of cases that could be affected is small, according to Keith Hampton, second vice president of the Texas Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. He told the Dallas Morning News that district attorneys rarely appear in court, so the number of cases with his direct participation is likely to be small. He also noted that most criminal cases end with plea bargains.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.