Thursday, September 11, 2008

Stay Puts Governor Perry on the Hot Seat

Andrew Perlman is wondering what the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals hopes to accomplish by its decision on the Charles Dean Hood case. Hood is a convicted killer who received a reprieve one day before his execution. Here is what Attorney Perlman has to say:

The prosecutor and judge in Mr. Hood's case have admitted to having had an affair at around the time of Mr. Hood's trial. Mr. Hood's lawyers have sent this letter to Governor Rick Perry, asking him for a 30 day reprieve so that Mr. Hood can present this new evidence to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

In a nearly simultaneous development, the Court of Criminal Appeals issued an order denying Mr. Hood's claims about the now-proven affair, reasoning that the claim could not be raised in a subsequent writ of habeas corpus. Nevertheless, the Court granted a stay of execution on the rather surprising grounds that there have been "developments in the law regarding nullification instructions" that make it "prudent" for the court to reconsider its decision on this issue, which Mr. Hood previously raised.

I'm looking at this from a distance, but a stay on these grounds under these circumstances strikes me as quite unusual. This is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that the Court of Criminal Appeals did not want to see this execution proceed tomorrow but also did not want to be responsible for ordering a new trial in the case. Perhaps the Court is just trying to buy some time in the hopes that Governor Perry will take the necessary action? Or perhaps this is the Court's way of offering a compromise, as a ruling in Mr. Hood's favor on the instruction issue would warrant a new sentencing hearing, but not a new trial? Does anyone believe the Court was genuinely motivated by developments in the law regarding nullification instructions?

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