Texas Monthly senior editor Michael Hall has followed the case of Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, and files this commentary on the findings of fact in the case, which was just released by Judge David Berchelmann, the Special Master in charge of figuring out what happened the day Michael Richard was executed on September 25, 2007. Hall is the author of “The Judgment of Sharon Keller,” which was published in the August 2009 issue.
Berchelmann’s findings of fact basically lets Judge Keller off the hook while saying, “TDS [Texas Defender Service] bears the bulk of fault for what occurred…” The report finds that the lawyers at the TDS had plenty of other options for filing an appeal that day and also that TDS basically lied about its computer problems: “There is no evidence in the record to confirm that the TDS suffered any computer issues that slowed its ability to prepare the lethal injection claim….’
Of Keller, Berchelmann writes,” “Judge Keller’s conduct was not exemplary of a public servant. She should have been more open and helpful about the way TDS could present the lethal injection claim….Although she says, If she could do it all over again, she would not change any of her actions, this cannot be true. Any reasonable person, having gone through this ordeal, surely would realize that open communication, particularly during the hectic hours before an execution, would benefit the interests of justice….In sum, there is a valid reason why many in the legal community are not proud of Keller’s actions.”
However, “she did not violate any written or unwritten rules or laws. Her conduct …does not warrant removal from office, or even further reprimand beyond the public humiliation she has surely suffered.”
Click here for a link to the special master’s findings of fact.