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September 11 2008 | UNITED STATES


Charles Hood's execution postponed to check would-be flaws of jury.

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New York Times

Judge and Prosecutor Admit to Affair, Lawyer Says

September 10, 2008


McKINNEY, Tex. — A judge and a prosecutor who handled the murder trial of a man sentenced to death here have admitted under oath that they carried on a secret affair for years, lawyers for the condemned man said Tuesday in a letter to Gov. Rick Perry.

On the same day, the highest criminal court in Texas postponed the man’s execution, which had been set for Wednesday evening — not because of the affair, but to reconsider whether the jury instructions were flawed.

In the letter to the governor, lawyers for the inmate, Charles Dean Hood, said the former judge, Verla Sue Holland, and the former prosecutor, Thomas S. O’Connell Jr., testified in depositions given late Monday and Tuesday morning that they had a romantic relationship for years.

“Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell confirmed that they kept the relationship secret,” Mr. Hood’s lawyer, Gregory W. Wiercioch, wrote to the governor. “She never disclosed it to a single litigant or lawyer who appeared before her, and she never recused herself from hearing a single case because of her affair with the elected district attorney.”

“Similarly, Mr. O’Connell never disclosed the romantic relationship to any of his adversaries nor did he recuse himself or his office from prosecuting a single case because of his affair with Judge Holland,” Mr. Wiercioch added.

The letter said Judge Holland, now retired, and Mr. O’Connell had differing recollections about when the affair ended. It remained unclear if the two were seeing each other romantically during the trial in September 1990. Another witness, a former assistant district attorney, has said the affair continued until 1993.

The depositions came after Mr. Hood’s lawyers persuaded Judge Greg Brewer of District Court to compel Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell to clear up years of rumors over their relationship.

“I don’t like the idea of anyone questioning our justice system,” Judge Brewer said as he handed down his ruling on Monday.

For years, rumors had swirled around Collin County, just north of Dallas, about a romantic liaison between Judge Holland, who was a district judge from 1981 to 1997, when she joined the state’s highest court, and Mr. O’Connell, who served as the prosecutor from 1971 until 2002, except for four years in the 1980s.

Hannah Kunkle, the court clerk, said it was impossible to determine how many other cases Mr. O’Connell had prosecuted before Judge Holland.

The affair might have gone unnoticed by history had it not been for the trial of Mr. Hood, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder and robbery of a couple in Plano. Mr. O’Connell handled part of the prosecution, while Judge Holland presided.

This June, a former assistant district attorney came forward and signed an affidavit saying the affair was common knowledge in Mr. O’Connell’s office during the time of the trial.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals later that month rejected a request to stay the execution based on that information, saying it amounted to hearsay. Mr. Hood’s lawyers sued in civil court to compel Mr. O’Connell and Judge Holland to testify.

Mr. Hood’s fingerprints were found at the scene of the murders, and he was arrested while driving one of the victim’s cars. He maintains his innocence.

Bill Boyd, a lawyer for Judge Holland, said she denied that she had been having an affair with Mr. O’Connell at the time of Mr. Hood’s trial.

Ms. Kunkle, the court clerk, said that nearly everyone in the courthouse had heard the rumor over the years. She said Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell were part of a tight-knit legal community that lived in Collin County before its population boomed in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Sometimes the little small-town stuff just doesn’t go away,” Ms. Kunkle said.
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