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Texas death row inmate draws closer to retrial after judge charged with anti-Semitism


A Texas death row inmate whose execution was halted in 2019 after charging the judge in his capital murder trial with anti-Semitic bias is entitled to a new trial, a district judge said on Monday.

The recommendation from Dallas Criminal District Judge Lela Mays paves the way for the state’s highest criminal court to decide whether inmate Randy Halprin, who is Jewish, should stand another trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution less than a week before Halprin’s death, allowing Mays to verify whether the judge in his case, Vickers Cunningham, was biased and may have displayed discrimination against him because of his religion. .

Mays agreed in his findings that Cunningham, who is Caucasian, “harbored a real and subjective bias against Halprin because Halprin is a Jew, and Judge Cunningham’s anti-Semitic biases created a risk of objectively intolerable bias.”

She said a “fair new trial is the only recourse” for Halprin, who was convicted by a jury for his role in the murder of a police officer on Christmas Eve 2000 in a case known locally as ” Texas Seven “.

The ruling renews attention to Cunningham, whom Halprin accused in court documents of describing him as “an f —— Jew” after the trial was over and of using a derogatory term to refer to a person. Jewish.

Former campaign workers and friends also said Cunningham “was particularly proud of the death sentences [of the Texas Seven] because they included Latinos and a Jew, ”according to Halprin’s petition for a new trial.

In 2018, Cunningham caught the nation’s attention when he ran in the Republican primary for a Dallas County commissioner seat and his estranged brother, married to a black man, claimed he was a longtime racist who promised to financially reward his children if they married. people of the opposite sex who were white and Christian.

In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Cunningham denied his brother’s claims that he was racist, but admitted that he created a living trust for his children with this specific clause.

“I strongly support traditional family values,” Cunningham told the newspaper in 2018. “If you marry someone of the opposite sex who is Caucasian, meaning Christian, they will get a cast.”

However, he said, his son was in a relationship with a woman of Vietnamese descent and his perspective on interracial marriage had changed.

Cunningham has denied that his opinions have ever clouded his performance as a Dallas County judge for 10 years, overseeing criminal cases involving black and Hispanic defendants. Judges in every state are bound by moral and ethical standards, and complaints of racial prejudice can result in public reprimands and even suspensions, although these are rare.

Those who knew Cunningham spoke to the Morning News about the allegations he used racial epithets. A former campaign worker said she heard him say racial slurs against black people on several occasions, which Cunningham denied to the paper. The campaign worker also said Cunningham used a derogatory term for undocumented people in the United States to describe some of Halprin’s co-defendants, according to Halprin’s petition. Cunningham did not specifically respond to this allegation.

Despite his campaign’s resentment, Cunningham lost his party’s nomination contest by just 25 votes.

Cunningham could not be reached now to comment on the new decision.

More than 100 Jewish attorneys in Texas have signed a brief in support of Halprin’s request for a new trial.

“When you have a judge who is biased against you and says horrible things about your religion or your race behind your back, you don’t get a fair trial,” one of the lawyers, Marc Stanley, told NBC Dallas. from Dallas. Fort Worth.

Halprin, 44, was initially serving a 30-year prison sentence for child abuse when he escaped prison with six other inmates in 2000. Prosecutors said the men robbed a merchandise store. sports in the Irving suburb of Dallas. A policeman who responded was shot and killed as the group fled.

A manhunt led to the capture of the so-called Texas Seven, which appeared on “America’s Most Wanted”. One of the men committed suicide before being arrested. Each defendant was tried separately, with Cunningham overseeing five of their trials, including that of Halprin, who was sentenced to death in 2003. Four of the six defendants were executed.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted Halprin’s execution two years ago and a review was opened this year into the allegations against Cunningham. In a July hearing overseen by Mays, prosecutors and prosecutors who originally represented Halprin denounced Cunningham’s comments but denied that Halprin was not given a fair trial.

While Cunningham’s alleged comments “are reprehensible and egregious, they show post-trial hostility which does not demonstrate a due process violation against this man at the time of trial,” the county prosecutor said at the time. Tarrant, Anne Grady.

The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on Tuesday because the litigation is ongoing.

Halprin’s federal public defender Tivon Schardl said in a statement that Mays “had no doubt made the right decision”.

“Contrary to what the state has said, the Constitution protects Texans from religious bigotry in the criminal justice system,” Schardl said. “We are confident that the Court of Criminal Appeal will come to the same conclusion and order a new fair trial for Randy Halprin.”

It was not immediately clear when the court planned to reconsider the case.