Texas Judge Goes to Trial Over Execution
By MICHAEL BRICK
Published: August 17, 2009
SAN ANTONIO — The highest-ranking criminal judge in Texas, the woman who presides over the most active execution chamber in the country, sat at a defense table on Monday to face charges of intentionally denying a condemned man access to the legal system.
The judge, Sharon Keller
of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, took her seat before a gallery crowded with bloggers, lawyers and death penalty protesters. Outside the courthouse, demonstrators called for her ouster. Inside, lawyers on both sides emphasized that capital punishment was not on trial.
But to some, Judge Keller has come to embody the practice. An intensely private former member of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, she won election to the court in 1994 and to the post of presiding judge in 2000. She has cultivated a reputation for rulings favorable to the prosecution in death penalty cases.
On Sept. 25, 2007, Judge Keller put in a 10-hour workday and went home around 4 p.m. to meet a repairman. That morning the United States Supreme Court
had effectively suspended lethal injection as a manner of execution by accepting a challenge to its constitutionality in a Kentucky case.
Largely on the basis of the justices’ action, lawyers for a Texas death row inmate were putting together an appeal to stave off execution. An assigned duty judge was waiting at the courthouse for any last-minute appeal on the inmate’s behalf.
Around 4:45 p.m., the general counsel of Judge Keller’s court called her to relate a request to file paperwork after 5 p.m., the usual closing time for the court clerk’s office. Judge Keller replied that the clerk’s office closed at 5 p.m. A few hours later, the inmate was executed.