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Crime News

Texas Death Row Inmate Should Get New Trial After Accusing Judge Of Anti-Semitism, Court Recommends

A Dallas judge determined that former jurist Vickers Cunningham exhibited anti-Semitic bias during the trial of death row inmate Randy Halprin.

By Constance Johnson
Randy Halprin Ap

A Jewish death row inmate should get a new trial after accusing the judge who presided over his 2003 capital murder case of anti-Semitism, a Texas judge has recommended.

Randy Halprin, 44, was part of the notorious “Texas 7,” a group of escaped inmates whose crime spree included the murder of Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins, who was responding to the attempted robbery of a sporting goods store on Christmas Eve in 2000, when he was gunned down.

Former Judge Vickers Cunningham presided over Halprin’s trial and five others. He sentenced each man to death. One of the suspects was never captured and died by suicide, according to WFAA.

Halprin accused Cunningham of describing him as a “f------ Jew” after the trial ended and using a derogatory term for a Jewish person,” according to court documents.

Cunningham has denied those accusations calling them lies created by his estranged brother and his friends, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Halprin was already serving a 30-year-sentenced for beating a child when he escaped from the maximum-security prison.

Witnesses told Dallas Criminal Court Judge Lela Mays that Cunningham saw his role in the trials as a badge of honor, according to the Washington Post. He also told friends “he believed God had chosen him to preside over” the trials, the paper reported.

Others said Cunningham “took special pride in the death sentences [of the Texas 7} because they included Latinos and a Jew,” according to Halprin’s petition for a new trial.

On other occasions, Cunningham allegedly referred to Mexicans, African Americans, and Catholics by racial epithets or otherwise derogatory terms, according to court documents.

Earlier this week, Mays found that Randy Halprin, 44, did not receive a fair trial and should be granted a new one, concluding that Cunningham had an "inbred bias" and “deep-seated animosity and prejudice toward Jewish people.” Now, the Texas Court of Appeals will decide if Halprin gets a new trial or is put to death.

“In sum, a judge’s religious and racial prejudices are uniquely offensive to the Constitution and the legitimacy of the criminal justice system,” Mays wrote. “Even the slightest influence of racial and religious stereotypes will make a trial fundamentally unfair.”

Mays also noted a ruling during the Halprin’s trial not to admit a ranking by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice of the personalities and leadership abilities of the “Texas 7.” Halprin was last and deemed the weakest member of the group.

“Jurors could have found the ranking document corroborated Halprin’s testimony about his subordinate role in the group of escapees, testimony the prosecution urged the jury not to believe,” Mays wrote.

Halprin’s alleged bigotry was exposed in a Dallas Morning News video interview in 2018. 

In the video, reporters asked him about allegations of racism. They also asked Cunningham, then a candidate for Dallas County Commissioner, about a trust fund established for his children, constructed in such a way that they would not receive any money if they married outside of their race, religion or to someone of the same sex.

“I strongly support traditional family values,” Cunningham said in the video “If you marry a person of the opposite sex, that’s Caucasian, that’s Christian, they will get a distribution." He told the paper that he considered marrying within one’s own race “a traditional family value.”

That prompted Halprin’s attorneys to review his case.

“Now there’s evidence the judge may be a bigot,” Stuart Blaugrund, told the Washington Post. “A lot of bigots tend to be equal opportunity bigots.”

Halprin attorneys requested a new trial in 2019. He was scheduled for execution on Oct. 10 of that year. His attorneys requested a stay of execution on August 22. One of the groups filing briefs in support of a new trial was 100 Jewish attorneys in Texas. 

“One hundred Jewish lawyers speaking out had a profound effect and helped channel the court’s attention on a serious problem,” Dallas attorney Marc Stanley, told the Post.

But Stanley told NBCDFW in July: "I'm guessing he might be guilty. But the truth is, he's never had a trial. When you have a judge that has a prejudgment against you and says horrible things about your religion or your race behind your back, you don't have a fair trial. And all I'm saying is, this guy needs a fair trial."

Tivon Schardl, one of Halprin’s lawyers told the Dallas Morning News they are confident the appeals judges will grant their client a new trial.

“The facts were never in dispute,” Schardl said. “Contrary to what the state said, the Constitution protects Texans from religious bigotry in the criminal court system.

Halprin and Patrick Murphy are the only two members of the “Texas 7” still alive. Four have already been executed, according to the Washington Post.

The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office refused to comment on May’s ruling because of ongoing litigation, according to the NBC News.