AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Texas’ highest criminal court stayed the execution of a Jewish man Friday, remanding his case for vetting of his claims the trial judge called him anti-Semitic slurs.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals called off the execution of Randy Halprin, who was set to die Oct. 10 by lethal injection.
Halprin claims in a habeas petition that Vickers Cunningham, the former Dallas County judge who presided over his capital murder trial, called him a “goddamn k—” and “that f—— Jew.”
Halprin’s petition cites the declaration of Tammy McKinney. McKinney said she grew up with Cunningham, their parents were close friends, and she went to the same church and belonged to the same clubs as Vickers.
Cunningham, who retired in 2005, reportedly does not confine his bigotry to Jewish people.
“If someone were actually African American, he would call them ‘N—–’ and their first name. It was his signature way of talking about people of color. For Jewish people, he would say a ‘f—— Jew’ or a ‘goddamn k—,’” Halprin’s habeas petition states, citing McKinney’s declaration.
Halprin, 42, was serving a 30-year sentence for injuring a child in December 2000 when he and six other inmates escaped from a prison in Kenedy, Texas.
Known as the “Texas Seven,” the men shot Irving, Texas policeman Aubrey Hawkins on Christmas Eve in 2000 after stealing 44 guns from a sporting goods store.
Halprin testified in his capital murder trial that he did not help plan the escape, nor did he shoot Hawkins.
He said when some of the other escapees started shooting at Hawkins, he “freaked out” and ran off.
According to Halprin’s attorneys, Cunningham prevented the jury from hearing mitigating evidence from Texas prison officials that Halprin was “very submissive” and was the “weakest” of the seven inmates who escaped.
In Texas capital murder cases, defendants can only be sentenced to death if the jury decides there is nothing in their background or character that warrants a sentence of life in prison.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals remanded the case to the trial court to explore Halprin’s claims that Cunningham’s bias violated due process and his right to free exercise of religion.
Halprin’s federal public defender Tivon Schardl said he’s grateful the appeals court gave Halprin the chance to seek 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. … A fair trial requires an impartial judge – and Mr. Halprin did not have a fair and neutral judge when his life was at stake,” he said in a statement.