- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

McKINNEY, Texas | A death row inmate whose lawyers argued a secret romantic relationship between the judge and prosecutor tainted his trial has won a reprieve - but not because of the purported affair.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals postponed Charles Dean Hood’s execution, scheduled for Wednesday, because it wanted to reconsider whether the jury instructions were flawed.

At the same time, the court dismissed claims Hood’s attorneys filed that he was denied a fair trial because of what would be a legally unethical relationship between retired Judge Verla Sue Holland and former Collin County District Attorney Tom O’Connell.

The reprieve came around the time Hood’s attorneys sent Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, a letter saying that Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell “admitted under oath that they had an intimate sexual relationship for many years.”

“The intimate sexual relationship between the judge and the district attorney began several years prior to the trial of Mr. Hood,” defense attorney Greg Wiercioch said in his letter to the governor re-emphasizing his earlier petition for a 30-day reprieve.

“While Mr. O’Connell and Judge Holland have different recollections as to when the affair ceased containing an intimate sexual component, there is no doubt that the relationship was sexual in the years immediately leading up to the time that Judge Holland had jurisdiction over the case.”

Attorneys for Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell said they were under court order not to discuss their clients’ testimony.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court and where Judge Holland presided in the mid-1990s, earlier this summer rejected Hood’s efforts to appeal on the grounds of the purported relationship, citing procedural reasons for the rejection but not addressing the merits of the accusations.

But the Austin-based appeals court said Tuesday it would be “prudent to reconsider the decision we issued” in previously dismissing Hood’s appeal that challenged jury instructions.

Laura Burstein, a spokeswoman for the Texas Defender Service, an anti-death penalty legal group whose attorneys spearheaded the appeal, said the court’s reprieve was limited to Hood’s punishment. She said Hood’s attorneys believed Hood deserves an entire new trial.

Julie Wallace, whose sister was one of Hood’s two victims, characterized the deposition effort as “another delay tactic, if you ask me.”

“It doesn’t change the evidence,” she said Tuesday. “His right to due process is what is in question, though I don’t think it was. It is frustrating to say the least.”

Hood is a former bouncer at a topless club who was 20 when he was arrested in Indiana for the fatal shootings of Tracie Lynn Wallace, 26, an ex-dancer, and her boyfriend, Ronald Williamson, 46, at Mr. Williamson’s home in Plano in 1989.

Hood has maintained his innocence of the slayings. He was driving Mr. Williamson’s $70,000 Cadillac at the time of his arrest. Evidence against him included his fingerprints at the murder scene.

Hood contended his prints were at Mr. Williamson’s home because he was living there and that he had permission to drive the car. Evidence also tied Hood, who had served two years in an Indiana prison for passing bad checks, to the rape of a 15-year-old girl.

AP writers Michael Graczyk, April Castro and Jeff Carlton contributed to this report.

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