Four hours before convicted murderer Michael Richard was executed by the State of Texas on September 25, his lawyers notified the Court of Criminal Appeals that, because of computer problems, his appeal wouldn’t be filed until fifteen to thirty minutes after 5 p.m.—the hour at which the court’s offices closed. This was no ordinary appeal: That very morning, the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to review the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution.
Still, Sharon Keller, the CCA’s presiding judge, slammed the door shut on Richard’s life. “We close at five,” she said. Keller’s fellow judges publicly expressed their anger at her actions, as did several hundred defense lawyers and judges, who signed complaints filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to discipline her and remove her from the bench. (Responding to the outcry, on November 6 the CCA announced a new “e-mail filing system for urgent pleadings.”) This is hardly the first time Keller has sacrificed fairness for toughness. In 1998, in her determination to keep convicted rapist Roy Criner in prison, she turned a blind eye to DNA evidence that indicated he hadn’t committed the crime; fellow judge Tom Price said the decision made the Texas court a “national laughingstock.” Well, no one is laughing now. When a man’s life is on the line—to say nothing of the U.S. Constitution—our top criminal judge should behave like one: with prudence, fairness, and a calm hand. It’s time for Keller to go. If the commission doesn’t act quickly, we’ll have to wait until January 2009, when the Legislature—which has the power to oust high judges—reconvenes, or worse, 2012, when Keller is up for reelection. The fact is, we need to do it now. Impeach Sharon Keller.