The presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is on trial for misconduct for refusing to hear a last-minute appeal from a death row prisoner scheduled to be executed that night. Judge Sharon Keller, dubbed "Sharon Killer" by her critics, reportedly denied an appeal from the lawyers for Michael Wayne Richard at 5:20 pm on September 25th, 2007, saying, "We close at five." Richard was killed later that night by lethal injection. Keller faces five charges of judicial misconduct and could be removed from the bench. [includes rush transcript]
We end in Texas, where the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is on trial for misconduct for refusing to hear a last-minute appeal from a death row prisoner scheduled to be executed that night. Judge Sharon Keller, who her critics have dubbed “Sharon Killer,” reportedly denied an appeal from the lawyers for Michael Wayne Richard at 5:20 pm on September 25th, 2007, saying, quote, "We close at five." Richard had been on death row for two decades, was killed later that night by lethal injection.
Judge Keller faces five charges of judicial misconduct and could be removed from the bench. She began testifying late Tuesday and is scheduled to continue her testimony at the San Antonio courthouse today.
For more on Judge Keller and her trial, I’m joined now in Austin, Texas by Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network, who’s been closely following the case. Cobb filed one of the judicial complaints against Keller that was co-signed by about 1,900 people.
Scott Cobb, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about Judge Keller. What is it exactly — who did she say to "We close at five"?
Well, she said, "We close at five," to Ed Marty, who was the general counsel at the time for the court of criminal appeals, and this was on a telephone call that Marty made initially to her at 4:45 p.m. on September 25th that lasted only about a minute. And at yesterday’s testimony, she laid clear that she included the statement "We close at five." The prosecutor asked her about the quote she had made in the Austin American-Statesman, and, yes —- and she acknowledged, “Yes, I told them, ‘Tell him that we close at five.’” So -—
How significant is this case? Is this unusual for a judge to be on trial like this?
This is an extremely significant and unique case. Keller is currently the highest-ranking judge who has ever been brought up on these type of charges, and it’s very significant that the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct has charged her and has pursued these charges so aggressively, because they take very seriously the reputation of the Texas judiciary, and their job is to protect that reputation, and they see that Sharon Keller has damaged that reputation and brought public discredit onto the judiciary. And so, they’ve been — I’m very proud of the way they pursued this case. I was surprised at first, but they’ve done a good job.
So Judge Keller is the highest-ranking judge ever put on trial by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct. Why was the appeal so late that day?
Well, the Texas — the original reason was because during earlier in the day, around 10:00 a.m., the US Supreme Court decided to take a case out of Kentucky that would have determined the constitutionality of lethal injection as an execution method, the three-drug cocktail used in executions in Kentucky and here in the US. And so, the lawyers for Michael Richard found out about that, and they had to rewrite their appeal and submit it based on this new information about the Supreme Court’s decision to take the case.
And so, they spent the day devising a strategy, writing the appeal, but towards the end of — closer to 5:00, they began having some sort of computer problem. Whether it was email problems, delivering it, is currently under a little bit of dispute. But they weren’t able to get the documents to the court of criminal appeals on time by 5:00, so one of their employees called the court of criminal appeals at 4:45 and said, “Listen, we’re going to be a little bit late. Can we deliver our documents after a little bit after 5:00?” And that’s when the phone call between the general counsel occurred, Ed Marty, and Sharon Keller, who had gone home already to deal with some oven repairperson. And so, Marty called her at home and got the answer, “No, we close at five.” And that was relayed back.
How long does this trial go?
The trial could go today or tomorrow, could end today, but it could also go through tomorrow.
Well, we will follow it. Scott Cobb, thanks very much for being with us, president of the Texas Moratorium Network. Judge Keller is being tried in a San Antonio court.