HOUSTON (AP) — A Jewish death row inmate who was part of the “Texas 7” gang of escaped prisoners and faced execution in less than a week won a reprieve on Friday after claiming the former judge at his trial was anti-Semitic and frequently used racial slurs.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution for Randy Halprin, who had been scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Oct. 10. The appeals court ordered Halprin’s case be sent back to the Dallas County court that convicted him, so it can review his claims that his trial judge was biased against him because he is Jewish.
Halprin’s attorneys are asking that he be granted a new trial.
“Today’s decision to stay Randy Halprin’s scheduled execution is a signal that bigotry and bias are unacceptable in the criminal justice system,” Tivon Schardl, one of Halprin’s attorneys, said in a statement.
Halprin was among the inmates who escaped from a South Texas prison in December 2000 and then committed numerous robberies, including the one in which they shot 29-year-old Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins 11 times, killing him.
The escaped inmates were arrested a month later in Colorado, ending a six-week manhunt. One of them killed himself as officers closed in and the other six, including Halprin, were convicted of killing Hawkins and sentenced to death. Four of the six who were convicted have since been executed.
Halprin’s attorneys alleged in his appeal that friends and people who worked with ex-Judge Vickers Cunningham from Dallas County said he “did not like anyone not of his race, religion or creed” and used racial slurs and anti-Semitic language to refer to Halprin and some of the other “Texas 7” inmates who were convicted. Cunningham oversaw the trials of Halprin and other members of the gang.
The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Halprin, declined comment Friday. Cunningham, now an attorney in Dallas, also wouldn’t comment.
Cunningham faced allegations of bigotry last year after telling the Dallas Morning News he has a living trust that rewards his children for marrying straight, white Christians. Cunningham was running for county commissioner at the time, and he lost the Republican runoff days later.
Cunningham denied racial bigotry at the time of the Morning News interview. And he told the newspaper in June that the allegations made by Halprin’s lawyers were “fabrications” from his estranged brother.
Halprin’s attorneys said they only learned of Cunningham’s alleged bias through the newspaper’s reporting last year.
Halprin, who has maintained he never fired a weapon at the officer, was convicted under Texas’ law of parties, which holds a person criminally responsible for the actions of another if they are engaged in a conspiracy.
He was the second death row inmate in Texas set for execution this month who got a stay this week. On Thursday, a judge halted the Oct. 16 execution of 60-year-old Randall Wayne Mays. He was condemned for a 2007 shootout at his home in East Texas’ Henderson County that left two sheriff’s deputies dead.
Mays’ attorneys say he suffers from delusions and thinks Texas wants to execute him over a renewable energy design he believes he created. State District Judge Joe Clayton said he wanted time to review all submitted medical records in Mays’ case.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 barred the execution of intellectually disabled people but has given states some discretion to decide how to determine mental disability.
The next execution in Texas is set for Oct. 30.
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