American Jewish groups are chiming in to support a Jewish inmate on Texas’ death row who contends that the judge who presided over his capital murder trial was anti-Semitic.
The Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the U.S., joined with the advocacy group American Jewish Committee, over 100 Jewish lawyers in Texas and others to file an amicus brief on Thursday in support of Randy Halprin, who is asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stay his scheduled Oct. 10 execution.
Among the evidence cited by the groups is an anti-Semitic slur the judge allegedly used to describe Halprin. (Note that the judge’s language appears uncensored below.)
The brief argued that Halprin has a constitutional right to an impartial judge.
“Well into the twenty-first century, it is beyond dispute that a trial conducted before a racist judge who boasts of his bigotry is no trial at all,” AJC general counsel Marc Stern said in a related press release.
Halprin was sentenced to death in 2003 by then state District Judge Vickers “Vic” Cunningham for his role in the so-called Texas 7 prison escape. Halprin was one of seven men who escaped from a South Texas prison in December 2000 and went on to commit several robberies, including a Christmas Eve crime in which a police officer was killed. Four members of the group have already been executed, the fifth killed himself before he could be recaptured, and the sixth is also set to be executed this year.
The push to stay Halprin’s death date is part of a larger effort to obtain a new trial for him. Halprin’s lawyers argued in a federal appeal in May that Cunningham was a “racist and anti-Semitic bigot” who privately described their client as “that fuckin’ Jew” and a “goddamn kike.” Cunningham also believed in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish people, the lawyers wrote.
“Judge Cunningham’s prejudices, bias, and animus towards Jews precluded him from being the impartial judge the Due Process Clause of the Constitution requires,” the appeal states. “His central role in the trial from start to finish constitutes a structural defect, and requires that the judgment of conviction and sentence of death be vacated.”
The lawyers claimed that Cunningham would also use derogatory language and racial slurs to talk about African Americans, Latino Americans and Catholics.
The former judge did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Reuters Randy Halprin, one of the Texas 7 prison escapees, is led out of the Teller County Courthouse after an extradition hearing in Cripple Creek, Colorado, on Jan. 26, 2001.
Last year, the Dallas News reported that Cunningham had set up a living trust with a clause that rewarded his children if they married white Christians of the opposite sex ― an arrangement that Cunningham later confirmed. Family members described him as a “lifelong racist.”
Cunningham told the Dallas News that his views on interracial marriage have evolved. He also denied the allegation that he harbored any racial bigotry.
He lost his race last year to become the GOP nominee for Dallas County commissioner.
The Anti-Defamation League filed an amicus brief in support of Halprin in federal court in June.
The Jewish groups who signed onto Thursday’s amicus brief declined to take a stance on Halprin’s guilt or innocence. Instead, they argued that Cunningham should have recused himself from Halprin’s case because of his biased views toward Jewish people. They are asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stay Halprin’s execution and order a hearing on the allegations against Cunningham.
“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,” Stern said.