Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
Presiding Judge Sharon Keller closed the court's office at 5 PM on
an execution day of Michael Richard without consulting any of the
other judges on the court. As a result, a man was executed without
being able to have the merits of his last appeal considered by the
justice system. To close at 5 PM and refuse to accept an appeal by
a person about to be executed is a violation of judicial responsibility.
"Keller proves how unjust (or at the very least how insensitive) the highest criminal court in the state can be.
And once again, Lady Justice ought to be hiding her head in shame in the Lone Star State.
"That callous disregard shocked the world, and the international outcry may have prompted Kellerís court to temporarily halt Chiís execution. Texas was slow to recognize that executions should be banned while the high court determines whether lethal injections violate the Eighth Amendmentís cruel-and-unusual language.
Better late than not at all. If Texas continues to execute condemned prisoners on the eve of the Supreme Court decision, it will incur the scorn of the civilized world. After the offense of Richardís death, Texas needs to adhere to expected standards of conduct and prohibit all executions until the Supreme Court rules.
Sharon Keller, Texas' top judge on criminal matters, may have shocked much of the nation last week when she ordered a clerk not to stay open an extra 20 minutes to accept a last-minute appeal for a man on death row.
But she didn't shock those who know her.
After all, this is the same judge who nine years ago responded to DNA evidence indicating the innocence of a man who had been in prison for years on a rape charge by writing that he may have used a condom.
The Dallas Morning News, in keeping with their recent heightened attention to death penalty issues, was the first newspaper editorial board to address the issue, saying on Oct 3:
That is unconscionable. You might not lose sleep over the fact
that the court wouldn't stay open for 20 minutes to help a convicted
rapist-murderer's attempt to evade the needle a bit longer. You
should think again. When the state takes the life of a condemned
criminal, it must do so with a sense of sobriety commensurate with
its grave responsibility. Hastening the death of a man, even a bad
one, because office personnel couldn't be bothered to bend bureaucratic
procedure was a breathtakingly petty act and evinced a relish for
death that makes the blood of decent people run cold.
Sharon Keller voted against Kerry
Max Cook who was exonerated from death-row in 2003. She suggested
that the little funds earmarked for legal representation of death
row inmates be returned to the state to help alleviate the budget
crunch. She has refused to acccept exculpatory evidence in the case
of Roy Criner.
On Rojas: Sharon Keller proclaimed
that Rojas' statutory right to "competent counsel … applies
only to the attorney's initial qualification, and does not apply to
the final product of representation"
Keller, now the presiding judge, has campaigned on the idea that failure
to give the death penalty is a human rights violation, said Texas
Monthly in a December 2002 article entitled "Death
And so, six months after Judge Jones ordered
a new trial for Ernest Willis, the Court of Criminal Appeals,
in a six-page reply, denied all relief. The state's court of last
resort found that Willis hadn't proved that he took the anti-psychotic
drugs involuntarily; that perhaps the state had an "essential
state policy" in giving them that Judge Jones never asked
about; that Woolard used "reasonable professional judgment"
in not calling character witnesses; and that the suppressed psychological
report regarding future dangerousness was "inconclusive,"
an interpretation the psychologist, Jarvis Wright, disagreed with,
later saying in an affidavit that he saw "no evidence that
Mr. Willis would pose a future danger." Doping, cheating,
bumbling—if these don't trouble the Court of Criminal Appeals,
According to Associated
Press, if the CCA had not been overruled by a federal judge, then
ernest willis would still be on death row waiting for a execution
A state district judge in Fort Stockton signed White's motion to dismiss
the charges against Willis, a former oilfield worker. The paperwork
was sent by overnight delivery to the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice. Last summer a federal judge in San Antonio ordered that Willis
either be tried again or freed. That overruled a decision by the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals that kept Willis on death row. White said
that while he questions Willis' guilt, the decision to dismiss was
based solely on a lack of evidence to retry him. White
said improved techniques for investigating arsons have shown
that some non-arson blazes can leave signs similar to fires started
with gasoline or other accelerants. Evidence of an accelerant was
used to convict Willis. "We know
a lot more now about how fires work," White said. "(The
original prosecutors) didn't have the benefit of that knowledge."