A Jewish inmate on death row who was part of a gang of prisoners who fatally shot a police officer in 2000 after they escaped should have his conviction vacated and given a new trial because the judge who presided over his case “harbored prejudices anti-Semites,” according to a court ruling.
Lawyers forThey have argued that former Judge Vickers Cunningham in Dallas used racial slurs and anti-Semitic language to refer to the inmate and some of his co-defendants.
Halprin, 45, was part of a group of inmates known as the “Texas 7,” who escaped from a South Texas prison in December 2000 and went on to commit numerous robberies, including one in which the security officer was shot. Irving police officer, Aubrey, 29. Hawkins 11 times, killing him, during a sporting goods store robbery.
Of the seven escaped inmates, one committed suicide before the group was arrested. Four have been executed, while Halprin and another, Patrick Murphy, await execution.
“Cunningham not only harbored an anti-Semitic bias at the time of the trial, but … did not or was unable to curb the influence of that bias in his judicial decision-making,” wrote state district judge Lela Mays in a ruling issued Monday night. from dallas
Mays wrote that Cunningham used racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs to refer to Halprin and the other escaped inmates tried in his court.
“As a judge with the power to influence trials, Justice Cunningham’s use of these terms to refer to co-defendants was racist because it combined the attribution of group characteristics with the exercise of power over them.”
Cunningham left the position in 2005 and is now a lawyer in private practice in Dallas. His office said Tuesday that he would not comment on Halprin’s case.
Halprin’s case will be forwarded to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which will make the final decision on whether to vacate his conviction and grant him a new trial. The appeals court halted Halprin’s execution in 2019.
“The Constitution allows only one remedy in cases of judicial bias, and that is to vacate the biased court’s ruling and start over with the possibility of a fair trial before an impartial judge. We trust the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will uphold the law accept the state’s concessions and adopt the trial court’s recommendations,” Tivon Schardl, one of Halprin’s attorneys, said in a statement Tuesday.
In April 2020, the US Supreme Court.the case. At the time, Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the facts presented by Halprin are “deeply disturbing,” but she nonetheless agreed with the decision not to hear his case.
In October 2021, Mays found that Cunningham had violated Halprin’s right to a fair trial and recommended that his death sentence be revoked. But the appeals court ordered an evidentiary hearing in May before it could consider the case.
Mays’ decision Monday comes after a three-day trial in Dallas in August in which several witnesses, including Cunningham’s brother and two longtime friends of the family, testified that the former judge had frequently used explicit anti-Semitic and racial slurs before and after Halprin’s 2003 trial in reference to him and several of the other escaped inmates.
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office had been designated to handle legal matters related to Halprin’s allegations after the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case, was disqualified from participating.
In September, Tarrant County prosecutors filed court documents saying Halprin should have a new trial because Cunningham showed “real bias” against the inmate.
Cunningham has denied accusations of racial bigotry after telling the Dallas Morning News in 2018 that he has a living trust that rewards his children for marrying straight white Christians. She had been opposed to interracial marriages, but later told the newspaper that her views on such marriages have evolved. In her ruling, Mays described Cunningham’s views as “the confession” of a white Christian nationalist ideology.