Convicted Killer Avoids Execution Because Judge and Prosecutor Had Affair

Houston – A man on death row may win a new trial as the Texas courts deal with the revelation that the attorney who prosecuted him and the judge who ruled on his case were having an affair during his trial.

Charles Hood, 39, a former bouncer at a topless club, 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 Williamson's home in Plano in 1989.

Hood has maintained his innocence. But Hood was driving Williamson's $70,000 Cadillac at the time of his arrest and evidence against him included his fingerprints at the murder scene. Hood has said he had permission to drive the car and his fingerprints were at the house because he had been living there.

A jury didn't buy Hood's story during his 1990 trial. He was sentenced to death. But as his execution date neared, Hood's attorneys asked the state's highest criminal court to grant him a new trial, insisting his right to an impartial trial was violated. The day before his scheduled execution in September, Hood won a reprieve from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

But that does not necessarily mean Hood wins a new trial. At issue last week was the timeliness of Hood's appeal and whether his defense lawyers previously knew about the relationship between the now retired Judge Verla Sue Holland and the former Collin County District Attorney, Tom O'Connell.

Last June a former Collin County assistant prosecutor filed an affidavit saying the affair involving the judge and prosecutor was "common knowledge" from at least 1987 until about 1993. The time included Hood's trial. But state district Judge Greg Brewer ruled on May 2nd that defense lawyers were not at fault because O'Connell and Holland "took deliberate measures to ensure that their affair would remain secret."

In a scathing rebuke Brewer said "Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell did not abide by their ethical and constitutional duties to disclose the fundamental conflict caused by their relationship," adding that O'Connell misled Hood's attorneys and Holland resisted their "investigative efforts."

Brewer also said state attorneys could not argue that time deadlines for appeals were violated in Hood's case because their hands were "unclean."

"It is the appearance of partiality that is damaging to the public's confidence in the integrity of the judicial process," he said.

Attorneys for Holland and O'Connell have declined to discuss the case, citing a gag order.

With Brewer's ruling, Hood's case now moves to the Texas appeals court where it can be reviewed on its merits.

Hood has survived five execution dates due to separate procedural matters.