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Jewish death row inmate in Texas to die Oct. 10; Religious leaders call for new trial

Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas, where the state’s death row inmates are executed. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

(JNS) – Leaders in the Jewish community have called for a new trial for Randy Halprin, a Jewish man scheduled to be executed on Oct. 10 in Texas who was part of “The Texas Seven” that escaped from prison almost 19 years ago and killed a police officer after they held up a sporting goods store, following allegations that he was sentenced by a judge who made anti-Semitic remarks and has a history of bigotry.

The judge, Vickers Cunningham, has been accused of privately referring to Halprin, as he sentenced him to death in 2003 for being part of the murder of Irving, Texas, police officer Aubrey Hawkins at an Oshman’s Sporting Goods store on Christmas Eve 2000, with an anti-Semitic slur and as “that f***in’ Jew.”

Cunningham allegedly also said that Jews “needed to be shut down because they controlled all the money,” according to Halprin’s attorneys.

Letters Of Support
Two letters of support were recently shared with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot, including one from Jewish community leaders and another from more than 75 Texas faith leaders from multiple religions, denominations and organizations, which states, “As a diverse group of faith leaders, we stand united against any expression of hatred. … Texas must not carry out the scheduled execution of Mr. Halprin without first guaranteeing that his trial was not tainted by an anti-Semitic judge who held a religious bias against him.”

The letter from 14 Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Menachem Katz, the Aleph Institute’s director of prison and military outreach, states, “When we speak about hatred and anti-Semitism in our communities, we often note that one kind of discrimination or bias goes hand in hand with another. So it is unsurprising to read in Mr. Halprin’s brief that Judge Cunningham also used the most offensive language to talk about Black and Latino defendants.”

Following citations of the Torah as it pertains to enacting impartial judgements, the letter states:

Free of Bias?
As rabbis, cantors, and lay leaders from across the spectrum of Jewish practice and belief, we stand together in our belief that our country’s justice system, and those it employs, must be free of any bias that might hinder its ability to review evidence with impartiality and treat the accused with fairness and dignity. Capital punishment is the most extreme action a government can take against a citizen. State officials must therefore take every step to ensure complete public trust in any death penalty case. How can the public trust that every decision Judge Cunningham made during Mr. Halprin’s trial was fair and free of bias, knowing the comments his friends attribute to him? How can the public even be asked to trust the system if prosecutors oppose impartial judicial review when this kind of evidence emerges?

Although not a signatory to the letter from Jewish leaders, the American Jewish Committee filed an amicus brief the stay Halprin’s execution.

“The right to an impartial judge is not only a blackletter rule of constitutional law, but also integral to the functioning of the entire Texas judicial system,” states AJC in the brief filed in support of Halprin’s petition. The brief was signed by AJC, more than 100 Texas Jewish attorneys, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Men of Reform Judaism and the Union for Reform Judaism.

The brief also states that “Texas law is clear that hateful and prejudicial rhetoric cannot hide behind the robe.”

AJC Comment:
“Well into the 21st century, it is beyond dispute that a trial conducted before a racist judge who boasts of his bigotry is no trial at all,” said AJC General Counsel Marc Stern. “If the allegations here are true—and they unfortunately ring true—the trial was no trial, and the verdict was no verdict, because the judge was no judge.”

Four of “The Texas Seven” have already been executed. A fifth shot himself to death before police could apprehend him.

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