The U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals Monday from five Texas death row inmates, including one condemned despite the admission of an affair between his trial judge and the prosecutor.
The justices did not comment in turning down Charles Dean Hood’s appeal. The decision does not change a ruling earlier this year from a Texas appeals court that ordered a new punishment trial for Hood on a legal point unrelated to the once-secret romantic relationship between the trial judge, Verla Sue Holland, and Tom O’Connell, the former district attorney in Collin County.
Hood, 41, a former topless club bouncer, has insisted he is innocent in the 1989 fatal shootings of Tracie Lynn Wallace, 26, and her boyfriend, Ronald Williamson, 46, at their home in Plano in suburban Dallas.
“No one should be prosecuted for a parking ticket let alone for capital murder by the district attorney who has had a sexual affair with the judge handling the case and despite the Court’s decision today, we will continue to zealously represent Mr. Hood as we believe his case was marred by a fundamental injustice,” said Andrea Keilen, director of the Texas Defender Service, a legal group representing Hood.
The Collin County prosecutor’s office had no comment on the ruling.
In a separate appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas’ highest criminal court, said in February that Hood was entitled to a new punishment trial because jurors were not allowed to properly consider mitigating evidence that could have convinced them he didn’t deserve a death sentence.
The ruling made no mention of the judge and prosecutor’s romance. Last year, the same court refused Hood’s appeal for an entirely new trial because of the affair.
O’Connell was the county’s elected prosecutor from 1971-82 and 1987-2002. Holland was a state district judge from 1981-96 before moving to the Court of Criminal Appeals, where she served until she resigned in 2001.
Hood was convicted in 1990. He was arrested in Indiana while driving Williamson’s $70,000 Cadillac, and his fingerprints were discovered at the murder scene. Hood said he had permission to drive the car and his fingerprints were at the house because he had been living there and doing odd jobs for Williamson.
In an affidavit related to the Hood case, a former assistant district attorney said the affair was common knowledge in Collin County in suburban Dallas. In the legal wrangling to block Hood’s execution, the former couple acknowledged under oath they had an intimate relationship.
In a second case Monday, the high court day rejected an appeal from a man on Texas death row for nearly three decades who said he did not receive a fair trial when he was convicted of murdering a teenager.
The court left in place the murder conviction of Delma Banks, 51, for the shooting death of 16-year-old Wayne Whitehead at a park near Texarkana in far northeast Texas in April 1980.
Like Hood, Banks still is entitled to a new punishment trial. The high court threw out his death sentence in 2004, agreeing with his attorneys that Texas authorities withheld information that a witness testifying at his punishment trial was a paid police informant. James Elliott, an assistant district attorney in Bowie County, said Monday he was waiting for a federal judge’s instructions on when he can return the case to trial for a new punishment hearing.
In other Texas cases Monday, the justices refused to review an appeal from the ringleader of a gang of teens convicted in the 1993 rape and killing of two Houston girls. Peter Cantu, 34, is likely to get an execution date soon.
He was condemned for the murders of Elizabeth Pena, 16, and Jennifer Ertman, 14. The girls were gang raped, beaten and strangled after they stumbled upon a gang initiation.
Cantu was 18 at the time of the slayings. Two of his companions already have been executed. Two others had their sentences commuted to life after the Supreme Court barred the execution of those under 18 at the time of their crimes.
The court also refused the appeal of Duane Buck, 46, who nears execution for gunning down his ex-girlfriend and her male friend nearly 15 years ago in Houston. Debra Gardner, 32, and Kenneth Butler, 33, were killed in July 1995. Buck’s stepsister also was shot but survived.
At the time, Buck was on parole for a cocaine delivery conviction.
Testimony showed Buck, who broke up with Gardner about a week earlier, came to her home in the middle of the night, kicked in the door, argued with her and others at the house and then left after retrieving some of his items. He showed up a few hours later armed, shot his stepsister, killed Butler and hunted down Gardner, who had fled outside. Gardner tried to stop a passing motorist but was shot as she begged for her life.
Buck tried to drive away in his car, but it wouldn’t start. He was arrested by police as he was trying to run away from the scene.
In the fifth case from Texas, the high court refused to review the conviction and death sentence of Ruben Cardenas, 40, a Mexican national on death row since 1998 for the rape-slaying of 16-year-old Mayra Laguna, a cousin.
She was abducted from her apartment in Edinburg in Hidalgo County in February 1997 and a day later her body was discovered in a canal.