Dallas County District Court Decides Judge’s Anti-Semitic Bias Marred 2003 Trial that Resulted in Death Sentence

(Juan Figueroa/Dallas Morning News/AP)

By Ramneet Singh

DALLAS, TX – The District Court for the 283rd District, Dallas County, has decided there was enough evidence of Judge Vickers Cunningham’s “anti-Semitism” in Randy Halprin’s 2003 trial and “recommended” Halprin’s death sentence should be discarded, moving the case to the to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  

In a press statement by Halprin’s lawyers, it noted Judge Lela L. May’s determination of that bias in Oct. 2021, which led to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals asking “the District Court to conduct a live evidentiary hearing” in May 2022. 

The hearing occurred from August 29-31. Halprin’s lawyers wrote, “Mr. Halprin’s claim that Judge Cunningham harbored racial and ethnic animus and bias against Mr. Halprin because he is Jewish.” The District Court’s opinion stated that he claimed this violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 

The State’s post-hearing documents included a list of Halprin’s alleged criminal activity from December 2000. Among other things, this involved escaping from Connally Prison Unit with others, including robbery, and the shooting of a police officer.

That list noted the New York Times referred to this group as “‘the Texas 7.’”

In the June 2003 trial, based on the circumstances around the police officer’s death “and that no mitigating circumstances warranted that a sentence of life imprisonment be imposed rather than the death sentence, Judge Cunningham sentenced applicant to death,” detailed Halprin’s counsel.

However, Halprin claimed “members of the group other than Mr. Halprin shot and killed police officer Aubrey Hawkins.”

Following changes in judges, “the trial court ultimately adopted the State’s proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and recommended that the relief Halprin sought (including automatic appeals) be denied.” 

That section also highlighted his attempts through the federal court system. After the setting of his execution date, “Halprin then filed the current application with this Court on July 16, 2019 and sought a stay of execution from the CCA on August 22, 2019.”

Despite opposition from Halprin’s side, Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office would represent the state in the current matter. In September of 2022, the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office determined the court should grant the relief. 

Halprin’s documents included specific instances of the bias. One example notes, “Judge Cunningham referred to the Texas 7 defendants he would try as ‘the Mexican, the queer, and the Jew.’”

Concerning expert testimony, “Although Dr. (Bryan) Stone explained that one could use ‘the Jew’ in a way that is not derogatory or pejorative, 3 WRR 33, an innocuous interpretation of Judge Cunningham’s use of the phrase is inconsistent with the overwhelming weight of the evidence.”

The defense press release cites a 2018 Dallas Morning News report on Cunningham’s racism, including information from a campaign aide in the judge’s county district attorney run. 

More specifically, those who came out after this story “told Judge Mays that Judge Cunningham called Mr. Halprin a ‘god**m k**e,’ and, when speaking about his work on the Texas 7 case, bragged that the ‘w*****ks and the Jew knew they were going to die’ with him on the bench.” 

The order states that “this Court finds, concludes, and recommends that the relief sought in Applicant’s Subsequent Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus be GRANTED.” This document is signed by Judge Mays Dec. 12 of this year.

After the District Court’s decision, attorney Tivon Schardl stated that “‘the State acknowledges that the Constitution allows only one remedy in cases of judicial bias, and that is to vacate the biased court’s judgment and start over with the chance at a fair trial before an unbiased judge.’”

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