Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The story that will not die

Today the Houston Chronicle called for the removal of Sharon Keller from her position as presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. If you've been reading this blog, or any death penalty blog for that matter, you know that Keller is the judge who refused to accept an appeal from a death row inmate 20 minutes after 5 p.m., after the inmate's lawyers encountered a particularly ill-timed computer crash. The inmate subsequently was executed.

Newspapers across Texas have exorciated Keller for her shocking, callous and irresponsible behavior. Today the Waco Tribune-Herald weighed in:

Texas justice closes at 5 p.m.

Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals,
shamed the state by deciding that 20 minutes of her time was more
important than a last-minute appeal for a man on death row.

If Keller cannot be removed from her position, she should be disciplined
for her outrageous behavior.

Keller, a former Dallas prosecutor, has a reputation as a hard-liner when
it comes to upholding convictions.

She outdid herself on Sept. 25 when the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a
death penalty appeal challenging the constitutionality of lethal
injections, used by Texas and other states.

Recognizing that the nation's highest court would determine whether lethal
injections violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual
punishment, the lawyers for Texas death row inmate Michael Richard began
preparing an appeal for their client to the Texas' highest criminal
appeals court.

Richard was scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. on the day that the U.S.
Supreme Court opened an appeal opportunity for him. He had been convicted
in 1986 for the rape and shooting death of a Harris County woman.

Forewarned that the last-minute appeal was on its way but would be a few
minutes late due a computer crash, several other judges on the state's
highest criminal appeals court stayed late so they could handle the

The computer malfunction made it impossible to print out and deliver 11
copies of the 108-page appeal petition by 5 p.m. Richard's attorney
notified the clerk's office that the appeal would be delivered 20 minutes

Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Paul Womack stayed late that evening
expecting an appeal from Richard's attorneys in light of the Supreme
Court's decision.

Another judge on the court, Cathy Cochran, told the Houston Chronicle: "I
would definitely accept anything at any time from someone who was about to
be executed."

Not so with Presiding Judge Keller. Three hours after Keller ordered the
clerk to accept no appeals filed after 5 p.m., Richard was executed.

Because Richard's situation was nearly exactly the same as the one
accepted earlier that day by the U.S. Supreme Court, it is nearly certain
that Richard's execution would have been stayed.

Only 2 days after Richard's execution, the Supreme Court blocked the
execution of another Texas inmate with a similar appeal.

Questioned, Keller cavalierly said, "We close at 5."

An ethics complaint has been filed with the State Commission on Judicial
Conduct by 19 Texas lawyers asking that Keller either be removed from
office or disciplined for violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.

One way or another, Keller should be held accountable for her shocking

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