A Dallas County judge recommended on Monday that the murder conviction and death sentence handed down to an escaped convict should be thrown out due to alleged bias on the part of the presiding judge in the case.
Judge Lela L. Mays of the 238th District Court, recommended that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturn the conviction of Randy Halprin and grant him a new trial. Halprin is one of two surviving members of the notorious “Texas Seven,” a gang of inmates that escaped from a prison in south Texas in December 2000.
The seven inmates broke out of a maximum-security prison in Kenedy, Texas, leading police on a six-week manhunt before finally being apprehended in Colorado. While on the run, the men allegedly committed a string of crimes, including multiple robberies, rape, and murder, as they made their way across the state of Texas.
On Christmas Eve, the gang allegedly robbed a sporting goods store in Irving, killing Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins in the process. He was shot multiple times and run over as the suspects fled the scene.
In 2003, Halprin was sentenced to death for the murder of officer Hawkins, but witnesses testified in a hearing last August that the judge in Halprin’s case, Vickers Cunningham, was known for making racial comments against Halprin, referring to him as “a [expletive] Jew,” as reported by The Dallas Express.
Dr. Brian Edward Stone, a defense witness at the hearing, testified that the judge’s references to the defendant were “clearly derogatory.” Prosecutors have also agreed that the judge exhibited bias in the case, WFAA reported.
One of the witnesses testifying at the hearing was Vickers Cunningham’s brother, Bill Cunningham, who claimed that his sibling “should never have been a judge calling balls and strikes in a system that is supposed to be equal and fair for everyone.”
“Cunningham not only harbored anti-Semitic bias at the time of trial but … he did not or could not curb the influence of that bias in his judicial decision-making,” declared Judge Mays, explaining her recommendation.
As reported by CBS, Judge Mays accused Judge Cunningham of using racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic slurs to refer to Halprin and other escaped inmates tried in his court.
“As a judge with the power to influence the trials, Judge Cunningham’s use of these terms to refer to the co-defendants was racist because it combined the attribution of group characteristics with the exercise of power over them,” said Mays.
Cunningham stepped down from the bench in 2005 and denied all allegations of racial bigotry, though he did reportedly admit that he disapproves of interracial and interfaith marriages.
Halprin and Patrick Murphy are the last two living members of the Texas Seven. Four others have been executed, and one died by suicide. Halprin’s lethal injection was scheduled for October 10, 2019, but he was granted a stay of execution from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Halprin has maintained that he was present at Hawkins’ murder but never fired a weapon at him.
Cunningham is now an attorney in private practice in Dallas, and his office said he will not be commenting on the case.