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Judge Watch: Court of Crim Appeals Says Not Unfair to Defendant Hood for Judge and DA to Have Affair During Trial

If you’re shaking your head in disbelief at this week’s ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — well, join the crowd.  

When the news first hit that a trial court judge and the district attorney who prosecuted cases in her courtroom had had a long-standing sexual relationship, lots of folk were stunned.  And lots expected something To.Be.Done.About.This.  (See earlier post by this blog.)

Especially Charles Hood and his appellate counsel.  Hood was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in a trial before Judge Verna Sue Holland with D.A. Tom O’Connell putting on the state’s case.   Seems pretty easy to think that Hood deserves a fair trial, right? 

Charles Dean Hood Sits on Texas’ Death Row, Knowing that During The Trial that sent him to death, the Judge and the DA were playing footsy

It isn’t even up for debate at this juncture:  trial court judge Verna Sue Holland and prosecutor Tom O’Connell, Jr. were involved romantically (yes — having an affair, a sexual relationship) while the capital murder trial of Charlie Hood was taking place.  Let’s think about that … shouldn’t this be strongly and swiftly punished? NOT allowed? 

Apparently not in Charlie Hood’s case.  This week, the high court has decided that Hood doesn’t get a fair trial because — wait for it — Hood should have brought it up earlier.  In an earlier writ.  Not making this up, folks.

What the heck?  Read what the Court decided — here’s the opinion and the dissent.

The highest state court on the subject just denied Charles Hood’s request that he have a new trial.  Here’s the Majority Opinion. Per Curiam, Not to be Published.   Not everyone agreed. Here’s the Dissenting Statement by Justice Cochran, who is joined by Justices Price and Holcomb.   The dissent sure makes sense — kudos to Justices Cochran, Price, and Holcomb.

What about the undisputed facts that the Judge and the DA BOTH LIED REPEATEDLY about having this sexual relationship? 

Here, the litany of facts listed in this week’s Dissent:

  1. Judge Verla Sue Holland of the 296th Judicial District Court of Collin County, presided over Hood’s capital murder trial.
  2. The elected District Attorney of Collin County, Thomas S. O’Connell, Jr., participated in the prosecution of Hood for capital murder.
  3. Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell were involved in an intimate sexual relationship prior to Hood’s capital murder trial.
  4. Prior to the capital murder trial-and during the appellate and post-conviction proceedings-Judge Holland never disclosed her relationship with Mr. O’Connell to Hood.
  5. During these proceedings, Mr. O’Connell never disclosed his relationship with Judge Holland to Hood.
  6. Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell took deliberate measures to ensure that their affair would remain secret. . . . Mr. O’Connell could not recall telling anyone, except possibly his sisters, about his romantic relationship with Judge Holland. Judge Holland told no one.
  7. Based only on rumors of an affair, Hood’s former habeas counsel decided to look into the matter prior to filing the initial habeas application. In 1995-96, Hood’s investigator, Tena S. Francis, conducted extensive records research. She reviewed divorce records, records obtained from the Office of Elections Administration, and case files in the Collin County District Clerk’s Office. Ms. Francis interviewed members of Hood’s defense team, attorneys practicing in Collin County, and Judge Holland’s former husband, Earl Holland. She attempted to interview Judge Holland’s bailiff, but he refused to discuss the judge’s personal life with her. She contacted the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
  8. Ms. Francis was unable to develop any concrete evidence of the affair.
  9. On June 27, 2005, shortly before Hood’s scheduled execution date, A. Richard Ellis, former counsel for Hood, contacted Judge Holland. She refused to comment on the allegations that she had a romantic affair with Mr. O’Connell. On the same day, Mr. Ellis contacted Mr. O’Connell. Mr. O’Connell denied that he had a romantic affair with Judge Holland.
  10. On June 3, 2008, Hood received the affidavit of Matthew Goeller, a former assistant district attorney in Collin County, Texas.
  11. Mr. Goeller’s affidavit marked the first time that a former employee of the District Attorney’s Office who had worked there during Mr. O’Connell’s tenure was willing to speak on the record and under oath about the relationship.
  12. Mr. Goeller stated that the romantic relationship between Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell was ongoing when Mr. Goeller began working at the District Attorney’s Office in 1987. Mr. Goeller could only assert that the relationship was “common knowledge,” not that he personally knew of any romantic interactions. 
  13. In June 2008, counsel for Hood retained Toni Knox, a private investigator. She reviewed the work previously conducted by Ms. Francis and then interviewed approximately two dozen individuals in the Collin County area who seemed likely to have some knowledge of the Holland-O’Connell affair.
  14. The witnesses could only attest that they had heard rumors about the affair.

Hood’s Life is at Stake —  as is the Reputation of Our State’s Criminal Justice System

A man’s life is at stake here.  Charles Hood is sentenced to die as a result of the trial overseen by Judge Holland and based upon a case presented by her lover-prosecutor.  Surely a new trial is warranted here, and the idea that a writ should have been filed sooner and therefore, he should be executed based on that secretly sexy trial, is simply a dog that won’t hunt.   

And the nation knows it, and our courts are becoming a joke.  Just go read:

Salon Magazine this week:  “The Texas Justice System operates in a parallel universe ….”

CBS News:  Whitewash

USA Today this week:  read the comments….

By the way, Verna Sue Holland served on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as a justice during the years 1997 – 2001 and she worked dailiy with EIGHT of the current nine justices on the CCA. 


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