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The Bloodlust State

For any who were not adequately shaken by David Grann's masterful article "Trial by Fire," about a man put to death by the state of Texas for a crime he almost certainly did not commit, Ta-Nehisi Coates points to a Salon article by Alan Berlow that simply beggars belief:

If anyone had any doubt that the Texas justice system operates in a parallel universe, look no further than the latest decision by the state's highest court in the case of death-row inmate Charles Dean Hood. On Wednesday the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) said it wasn't interested in examining whether there was a conflict of interest in Hood's 1990 trial simply because District Attorney Thomas S. O'Connell Jr., Hood's prosecutor, had had a long-term sexual relationship with presiding Judge Verla Sue Holland, an affair the two tried to hide for 20 years.

In 1989, Hood was convicted of murdering Ronald Williamson and Tracie Lynn Wallace. The Holland-O'Connell affair was first reported by Salon in 2005, quoting anonymous sources. Judge Holland refused to either confirm or deny the affair at the time. A year ago this month, Holland and D.A. O'Connell, both since retired, acknowledged under oath that they had had a long-term sexual relationship, which was never revealed during more than a decade of appeals by Hood's lawyers. In her defense, Judge Holland said the affair ended more than two years before Hood's trial. But O'Connell also testified that the two had discussed marriage, and recalled that the affair continued as late as mid-1989 -- just before Hood's trial. He said the two continued to have a "good relationship," sans sex, during and after the trial. He said the two took a trip together in 1991.

Rather than address the affair directly, the CCA ruled 6-3 on a technical question, concluding that Hood should have raised the issue at his original trial. But Hood's lawyers couldn't prove the widespread rumors of the affair before Hood's trial. The CCA had earlier criticized Hood for failing to present any "personal knowledge" of the affair, a virtually impossible hurdle given that, as far as we know, there were no witnesses to the lovemaking other than the two principals, no Paris Hilton-style video, and the judge and her boyfriend weren't talking. The CCA also said Hood's claims were based on "rumor," not fact. But when Hood's lawyers were able to present the detailed facts of the affair, based on the confessions of the principals, the CCA said it was not interested in these facts.

Nor does it end there. Among other conflicts, Holland herself served on the CCA for four years, but not one of the 8 current judges (out of 9 total) with whom she served saw fit to recuse him- or herself from the case. Read the whole thing here, and witness, again, the profound and systemic depravity with which the state of Texas pursues capital punishment.