The Texas attorney general's office on Thursday took the unusual step of joining the defense in saying that death row inmate Charles Dean Hood should not die until after an investigation into an alleged romantic relationship at the time of his trial between the prosecutor and judge.
Although noting that the facts of the murders of Ronald Williamson and Tracie Lynn Wallace are not in question, Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to Collin County District Attorney John Roach, "The impartiality of a defendant's trial and conviction must be beyond reproach."
The letter said that the attorney general's office would file a legal brief today asking that the trial court fully review the matter, even if it means delaying the execution.
"Because of the unique nature of the issues in this matter – and to protect the integrity of the Texas legal system – we will ask the court to thoroughly review the defendant's claims before the execution proceeds," the letter said.
The Hood case has drawn intense scrutiny from legal ethicists, as well as death penalty advocates and opponents who keep a close eye on the nation's busiest death chamber.
The case drew national attention in June when Mr. Hood came within hours of execution as attorneys wrangled over final appeals, including one related to the alleged romance. Though Mr. Hood was cleared for execution, his death warrant expired before the sentence could be carried out.
Defense attorneys for Mr. Hood, who have been hammering at the wall of silence surrounding the alleged relationship, were stunned by the attorney general's action.
"I had no idea this was coming," said Greg Wiercioch. "I'm just pleased that the attorney general's office is doing the right thing in this case. I'm astounded."
Whether the unusual move will save Mr. Hood, who is set for execution Wednesday for the 1989 slayings, is unclear. The attorney general's office does not have jurisdiction in the case, but Mr. Wiercioch said the move should make it easier to obtain a stay of execution from either the governor or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) is a non-profit organization with the primary goal of mobilizing statewide support for a moratorium on executions in Texas. Significant death penalty reform in Texas, including a moratorium on executions, is a viable goal if the public is educated on the death penalty system and is encouraged to contact their elected representatives to urge passage of moratorium legislation.
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