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Texas Judge Pulled From Capital Murder Case

DALLAS (CN) - A state district judge has been removed from a capital murder case because of comments she made after ruling that the state's death penalty law is unconstitutional.

Judge Teresa Hawthorne in December granted defense motions in Roderick Harris' double murder case that challenged the constitutionality of the state's death penalty. Hawthorne found the law unconstitutional because it allows prosecutors to arbitrarily seek capital punishment.

"My decision is not an act of unabashed judicial activism ... I remember when women and blacks could not vote," Hawthorne wrotein her ruling. "I remember when so-called witches were burned. I remember when gays had to hide to be in the military. My decision is not to buck the system or stir the waters."

Dallas County prosecutors appealed and asked to have Judge Hawthorne recused. Administrative Judge John Ovard granted their request last week.

Prosecutors told Ovard that Hawthorne made comments in and out of court about her views against the death penalty, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Prosecutor Patrick Kirlin told Ovard at a hearing that Hawthorne told him outside the courtroom, "Sometimes you have to follow your heart."

He said that comment and those she read during the hearing were an important part of why prosecutors want to recuse Hawthorne.

Kirlin also testified that Hawthorne told him that her ruling was "just one more nail on the coffin." He said he understood that statement to mean Hawthorne meant it was "one more nail in getting the death penalty abolished."

Defense attorneys Brad Lollar and Doug Parks told Ovard that prosecutors sought to recuse Hawthorne because they didn't like her ruling, that they should fight it on appeal.

"If she hadn't ruled the way she ruled, the state wouldn't have cared about her personal beliefs one iota," Parks told Ovard. "Those rulings should stand."

Hawthorne was not present at the hearing and Ovard told prosecutors he would not require her to testify when prosecutors said they wanted to call her to the stand, according to the Morning News.

Prosecutors wrote that Hawthorne "has demonstrated a deep-seated antagonism toward the death penalty and the state's exercise of its discretionary authority to seek death in this case."

"A reasonable person who witnessed Judge Hawthorne's conduct at the December 19th hearing and knew all the facts relating to her conduct would have a reasonable doubt about her impartiality," prosecutors said in their motion. "Furthermore, Judge Hawthorne's bias and prejudice concerning a relevant subject matter - the punishment to which Harris may be subjected - warrants her recusal."

Harris is accused of murdering Alfredo and Carlos Gallardo during a robbery at a southeast Dallas mobile home and shooting it out with police in 2009. Police told the Morning News that Harris made off with $2 in the robbery.

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