Saturday, January 29, 2011

Rick Casey's Last Word | January 28, 2011

"Federal judges, it is good to say, rarely are murdered in the United States.  It happened three weeks ago in Tucson when U.S. Chief District Judge John  Roll was among those murdered in an assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

In the entire 20th Century only one federal judge was assassinated. That was right here in San Antonio where federal Judge John Wood was murdered on his way to work one morning in 1979.

In Arizona, the day after the first court appearance of accused killer Jared Lee Loughner, a Tucson federal judge ruled all three Tucson judges had to recuse themselves from the case in order to avoid the appearance of bias.  The next day the chief of all 17 Arizona federal judges announced that none would preside over Loughner’s trial for the same reason.

That’s not the way we handled it in Texas. When Charles Harrelson, the father of actor Woody Harrelson, was tried in 1982 for the murder-for-hire of Judge Wood, the trial was presided over by Judge William Sessions.

Sessions not only was a colleague of Judge Wood in the San Antonio courthouse, but he was a pall bearer at Wood’s funeral.

What’s more, some jurors may have noticed during the three-month trial that they were walking daily into the John H. Wood Jr. United States Courthouse.

Now there’s little question that Charles Harrelson did the crime, for which he received two life sentences plus five years. He died four years ago in his cell at the SuperMax Prison in Colorado.

But doubts do linger to this day about the way the case was handled from the investigation through the prosecution, doubts enhanced by the failure of Texas judges to do what Arizona judges just did."

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