By Juan Garcia Urrutia
DALLAS, Texas – On April 6, the Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari to one of the Texas Seven who claims an unfair trial after discovering that the judge who sentenced him to death is racist.
In December 2000, Randy Halprin, along with six other individuals, escaped from a Texas prison. Six of the seven members were later arrested during an attempted robbery, where Police Officer Hawkins was fatally shot. All six of the members were found guilty and sentenced to death.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote on behalf of the court, stating that “despite these potent arguments,” the court would not take up the case—as a Texas court is currently reviewing the case and should the court agree with Halprin’s arguments, “this petition for a writ of certiorari about a federal procedural provision would become moot.”
In 2018 while running for County Commissioner, it was uncovered that Vickers Cunningham, who had presided over Halprin’s trial, created a living trust fund which stipulated that funds be withheld should his children marry non-white, non-Christian persons.
In an interview, Cunningham stated that the terms of the trust fund were not requirements but rather milestones where funds would be distributed when his children met such milestones, including marrying someone of the opposite sex, who is also white and Christian. Cunningham stated that these terms were traditional family values that fell within his faith, including marrying within someone’s own race.
Local news reporters also quoted a former campaign aide witnessing Cunningham using racial slurs including the N-word. The former aide also stated that Cunningham claimed he was running for office so he could “return Dallas to a Henry-Wade style of justice where we did not have to worry about [n-word], Jews, wetbacks, and Catholics.”
Having discovered possible bias, Halprin submitted an appeal for a new trial with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and a federal court. The Federal Circuit Court denied Halprin’s petition, citing that he was submitting a second petition of habeas corpus, which federal laws limit unless there are special circumstances, and which the court found Halprin’s case did not meet.
Halprin’s petition with the Texas Court was taken up and the court placed a stay on his execution while a trial court determined whether there was bias in the original trial.
Patrick Murphy also had his execution halted. Murphy and Halprin are the only surviving members of the original Texas Seven.
Justice Sotomayor made clear that the denial of cert “carries with it no implication whatever regarding the Court’s views on the merits of Halprin’s case.” She also acknowledges that everyone has a right to a fair trial presided over by an unbiased judge and is hopeful that “Texas courts considering Halprin’s case are more than capable of guarding this fundamental guarantee.”
Moreover, Justice Sotomayor states that the denial does not prohibit Halprin from seeking an original writ of habeas corpus under the Court’s rules.
In a statement, Halprin’s lawyers said they would continue to “seek a new, fair trial” for their client.
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