A North Texas judge was removed from presiding over a death penalty case Tuesday after she ruled that the state law allowing executions was unconstitutional.
An administrative judge sided with Dallas County prosecutors and removed state District Judge Teresa Hawthorne from the capital murder case of Roderick Harris, who is accused of fatally shooting two men in 2009. Administrative Judge John Ovard ruled that Hawthorne should be removed because of personal beliefs she expressed about the death penalty.
Ovard is the presiding judge of the state’s First Administrative Judicial Region, which covers most of East Texas.
Hawthorne ruled last month that the Texas death penalty law was unconstitutional because it allows prosecutors to arbitrarily seek the penalty, The Dallas Morning News(http://dallasne.ws/xmUUQr) reported.
Harris is accused of fatally shooting brothers Alfredo and Carlos Gallardo during a robbery at a southeast Dallas mobile home in March 2009, then getting into a shootout with police.
At a Tuesday hearing before Ovard, prosecutor Patrick Kirlin testified that Hawthorne told him outside the courtroom after her ruling that “sometimes you have to follow your heart.” Kirlin said that comment and some by Hawthorne from the bench prompted prosecutors to seek her recusal.
The Dallas Morning News reported that Hawthorne, when ruling the capital punishment law unconstitutional, said: “My decision is not an act of unabashed judicial activism … I remember when women and blacks could not vote. I remember when so-called witches were burned. I remember when gays had to hide to be in the military. My decision is not to buck the system or stir the waters.”
According to the court transcript reviewed by the newspaper, Hawthorne acknowledged that all of the state’s appeals courts have “consistently rejected” the reasons she offered for her ruling, but she insisted that changes could still be made in the law.
Hawthorne was not in court during Ovard’s hearing. However, Harris’ defense attorneys, Brad Lollar and Doug Parks, told Ovard that prosecutors were seeking the judge’s recusal simply because they despised her ruling.
“If she hadn’t ruled the way she ruled, the state wouldn’t have cared about her personal beliefs one iota,” Parks said. “Those rulings should stand.”