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Texas Court Recommends New Trial For Jewish Death Row Inmate Due To Antisemitic Judge

Randy Halprin was part of a gang of escaped Texas inmates convicted of killed Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins in 2000. But, because Judge Vickers Cunningham used "racial slurs and antisemitic language" during Halprin's 2003 trial, he may be entitled to a new one.

By Christina Coulter
death row inmate Randy Halprin

A Texas district court has ruled that a Jewish death row inmate should have his conviction overturned and get a new trial due to the antisemitic behavior of the judge who sentenced him. 

Randy Halprin, 45, was part of a gang of inmates, known as the "Texas 7," who escaped from South Texas Prison in December of 2000 and committed a string of robberies — including one in which they fatally shot 29-year-old Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins 11 times. Of the seven inmates, one died by suicide before he was arrested, four have been executed and Halprin and Patrick Murphy were sentenced to death but await execution in the case.

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Halprin's lawyers have contended that former Judge Vickers Cunningham used racial slurs and antisemitic language to refer to their client and some of his codefendants, according to the Associated Press.

Several witnesses to Halprin's 2003 trial, including friends and his brother, testified to Judge Cunningham's behavior at a three-day Dallas trial in August. Under oath, they all said that the former judge used explicit antisemitic and racial slurs before and after the trial in reference to Halprin and his co-defendants.

In her Monday night ruling, state District Judge Lela Mays wrote that Cunningham "not only harbored antisemitic bias at the time of trial but ... he did not or could not curb the influence of that bias in his judicial decision-making."

"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."

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted Halprin's execution in 2019.

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Judge Mays recommended overturning Halprin's death sentence in October of 2021 after she found that former Judge Cunningham violated his right to a fair trial. However, the appeals court ordered an evidentiary hearing to be held before it would consider the case.

After the Dallas County District Attorney's office — which originally prosecuted Halprin in the case — was disqualified from handling legal issues related to the appeal, the nearby Tarrant County District Attorney's office also filed court documents in September recommending that the convict should get a new trial due to Cunningham's "actual bias."

Following Judge May's latest ruling, the appeals court will now make the final decision on whether Halprin's conviction will be overturned and if he will get a new trial.

Tivon Schardl, one of Halprin's attorneys, wrote in a statement on Tuesday that he was confident the appeals court would uphold Judge Mays' decision. 

"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," he wrote.

Cunningham became an attorney at a private practice after stepping down from the bench in 2005; his office told Oxygen.com on Wednesday that he would not be commenting on Halprin's case. 

In 2018, Cunningham told the Dallas Morning News that he has a living trust that his children can only access if they marry straight, white Christians. He told the newspaper that, although he once opposed interracial marriages, his views on such marriages have evolved. 

In her ruling, Judge Mays described Cunningham's views as "the avowal" of white Christian ideology.

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