By Angelina Sang
DALLAS, TX – A state district judge said here this week a Jewish inmate – part of the “Texas 7” – should get a new capital murder trial because of anti-Semitic bias held by the judge who presided over the original case.
Dallas Criminal District Court Judge Lela Mays believes her predecessor, former Judge Vickers Cunningham, breached Randy Halprin’s constitutional right to a fair trial by not recusing himself from Halprin’s case because of his anti-Semitic views.
Halprin was part of the so-called “Texas 7” gang that escaped the Connally Unit in South Texas in 2000. Halprin and the six other escapees later allegedly robbed a sporting goods store in Irving, Texas on Christmas Eve. While escaping, the gang fatally shot the police officer responding to the crime, Aubrey Hawkins.
After Cunningham oversaw Halprin’s trial in 2003, a 2018 Dallas Morning News story collected testimonies from Cunningham’s friends and brother and revealed that Judge Cunningham has a living trust that his children can only receive by marrying straight Caucasian Christians.
After the story broke, Halprin’s lawyers launched an investigation into the allegations. Numerous friends, colleagues, and witnesses corroborated Cunningham’s alleged bigotry, claiming that the judge regularly used the N-word, called Latinos “w*****ks,” and referred to Halprin as a “k**e.”
Halprin’s attorneys quoted Tammy McKinney, who’s known Cunningham since the two were young.
McKinney told the attorneys that Cunningham “did not like anyone not of his race, religion or creed, and he was very vocal about his disapproval” and in a 2018 Tweet McKinney referred to Cunningham as “pure poison. Walking breathing hatred. Unfit for society let alone a position of authority.”
Halprin’s execution date was scheduled for Oct. 10, 2019, but on Oct. 4 the Texas Court of Appeals halted it and sent the case back to the Dallas County Court for review. Judge Mays was ordered to look into the allegations against Cunningham and if such bias violated Halprin’s right to a fair trial.
Mays appointed Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson to represent the State of Texas. Wilson and her office argued that Halprin’s rights were not violated by Cunningham’s alleged bias, and argued the Supreme Court precedent does not include judicial bias involving racism, ethnic bigotry, or antisemitism.
Mays responded by rejecting Wilson’s arguments.
In the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law on Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus released Monday, Mays wrote that “Judge Cunningham’s bias towards Halprin not only harmed him, but it undermined the public’s confidence that criminal justice has been–and will be–dispensed impartially.”
Mays recommended the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals throw out Halprin’s 2003 conviction and death sentence.