Texas judge urges retrial of death row inmate, citing lawyer’s anti-Semitic comments

A Texas judge this week strongly recommended that a convicted murderer on death row be retried for the blatant racism and anti-Semitism she said the trial judge had displayed.

The recommendation, issued Monday by Judge Lela Mays of the Dallas County Criminal District Court, paves the way for an appeals court to decide whether to order a new trial for the inmate, Randy Halprin, a member of the so-called Texas Seven who was convicted. and sentenced to death in 2003 for his role in the murder of a police officer.

Halprin, 44, who is Jewish, was granted a stay of execution in 2019 after his lawyers discovered that Vickers Cunningham, the judge who oversaw Halprin’s murder trial, had consistently used racist language and anti-Semitic insults when referring to Halprin.

Judge Mays said in her recommendation that at the time of Halprin’s trial, Mr Cunningham “had a real bias against Halprin, because of Halprin’s religious faith”.

“A new fair trial is the only remedy,” she said in a 58-page document, more than 10 pages of which detailed Mr Cunningham’s “extensive history of prejudice and bias.”

“Even if Judge Cunningham wasn’t really biased against Halprin because of his Jewish identity,” she wrote, “his judge’s statements about saving Dallas from the Jews, his statements that endorse anti-Semitism stereotypes and tropes, his use of anti-Semitic insults. when he refers to Halprin” shows that “religious and ethnic bigotry gave him more than enough temptation not to keep the balance between the state and Halprin beautiful, clear and true.”

Mr. Cunningham, who retired as a judge of the Dallas County Criminal District Court in 2005, did not respond to an email asking for comment Wednesday night. He has previously denied using racist language and said his personal views did not influence his decisions in court.

Tivon Schardl, Mr. Halprin’s federal public defender, said Judge Mays’ recommendation will now be considered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Mr Schardl said that while a new trial for Mr Halprin was not guaranteed, Judge Mays’ recommendation was an important step that “relied on undisputed evidence”.

The Dallas County District Attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

It’s unclear when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals plans to make a decision. The court did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday evening.

Judge Mays’ recommendation was the latest development in the lawsuits involving a group of men who murdered a police officer in a series of robberies after escaping from prison in December 2000.

Halprin has always maintained that he did not fire a gun, telling a jury at his trial that he had not wanted to carry a gun and that he “had panicked” when the other men started firing. His lawyers have said Mr Halprin was at the bottom of the Texas Seven hierarchy.

Credit…Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News, via Associated Press

In her advice issued Monday, Judge Mays cited several examples where Mr Cunningham had used expletives when referring to Jewish people. In addition, Judge Mays wrote of a friend of Mr. Cunningham’s, Amanda Tackett, who recalled hearing Mr. Cunningham refer to Mr. Halprin as “the Jew.” Ms. Tackett also recalled that Mr. Cunningham “ordered his daughter to break up with ‘that Jewish boy’ when she referred to her boyfriend at the time.”

Cunningham was criticized in 2018 when he told The Dallas Morning News in an interview that he had set up a living trust for his children with a clause that would reward them if they married a white person.

“I am a big believer in traditional family values,” Mr Cunningham told the newspaper in 2018. “If you marry a person of the opposite sex who is white, who is Christian, they get benefits.”

Judge Mays’ recommendation also included a quote from Ms. Tackett, who worked on Mr. Cunningham’s 2006 campaign for the Dallas County District Attorney, recalling saying that “he wanted to run so he could save Dallas from” religious minorities. In the quote, racial and ethnic defamation is used to refer to black people, Latinos, Jews, and Catholics.

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