Monday, December 13, 2010

Lawyers Try to Revive Texas Death-Penalty Hearing

The defense attorneys for an accused killer are trying to restart a controversial hearing on the legality of the death penalty in Texas after the state's highest criminal court stopped it Tuesday at the request of prosecutors.

The controversial hearing, which started Monday at a state district court in Houston, was expected to last a couple of weeks. The defense lawyers had asked the judge to rule that the way Texas applies capital punishment is unconstitutional because it carries high risks of executing innocent people.

Their goal was to prevent their client, John E. Green Jr., from being prosecuted for capital murder, which is punishable by death. Mr. Green is accused of killing a Houston woman in front of her children.

But the Harris County district attorney's office, which brought the case against Mr. Green, asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to halt the hearing, arguing that the district court has no authority to decide on the issue. The appeals court ordered the involved parties to file legal briefs within 15 days, outlining their arguments before it can decide whether the hearing should move forward.

"We are focused on what they want us to do and believe that there is a pretty decent chance that they will agree with us," said Richard Burr, one of Mr. Green's lawyers, of the appeals court.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney declined to comment.

Critics of the Texas criminal justice system had seen the hearing as an opportunity to air in court what they say are well-documented problems that have led to wrongful convictions and executions.

By Ana Campoy,


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