Judge Sharon “Killer” Keller is feeling the heat after she refused to accept an appeal after the 5 p.m. closing time of the TX Court of Criminal Appeals. Michael Richard was executed as a result. The court would surely have stayed the execution pending a Supreme Court decision about cases challenging the method of lethal injection. Here is the latest:
Dec. 13, 2007, 9:03AM
Judge in death case violated policies
Keller, who shut out appeal, says new written rules reflect unwritten
ones on that day
By R.G. RATCLIFFE
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
AUSTIN – Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon
Keller apparently violated court policies for handling death penalty
cases when she closed the court clerk’s doors on Michael Richard’s
efforts to file a last-minute appeal before his execution.
In response to a national outcry against Keller’s actions, the court
adopted written policies last month to make certain a death row
inmate’s appeals always go first to an assigned judge.
In response to a public information request from the Houston
Chronicle, Keller said in a letter that no written court procedures
existed Sept. 25, the day of Richard’s execution. However, she said
the new written rules reflected the court’s unwritten policies on
Keller was not the judge assigned to handle Richard’s appeal when she
decided to close the clerk’s office so that Richard’s lawyers could
not file a late appeal.
Judge Cheryl Johnson was in charge of Richard’s case on the day of
his execution, but did not learn of his lawyers’ attempts to file for
a stay of execution until the day after his death.
A lawyer who has been representing other attorneys in filing
complaints against Keller for her handling of the Richard case said
Keller’s response to the Chronicle’s information request clearly
shows Keller violated the court’s unwritten policies in cutting off
“To me, it’s a pretty stunning admission that she operated totally
outside of their procedures,” said Jim Harrington, who has
coordinated attorney complaints filed against Keller with the Texas
Commission on Judicial Conduct. “She doesn’t have respect for the
processes of the court, which are designed to protect due process.”
Keller did not respond to a request for an interview, and her office
referred calls to appeals court Judge Tom Price, who also did not
On the day of Richard’s execution, the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed
to consider whether the chemicals used for lethal injection in the
United States amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Richard’s lawyers attempted to get a stay of execution for him while
that case was under review. But they had computer problems and asked
the state appeals court clerk’s office to remain open late to accept
the appeal. Keller ordered the clerk to close at the usual time: 5
p.m. Richard was executed three hours later for a 1986 rape and
The Supreme Court three days later halted another Texas execution
based on the lethal injection appeal. The court with its action
created a de facto national moratorium on executions.
In its public information request, the Chronicle asked for the state
appeals court procedures for handling death penalty cases on the day
of Richard’s execution.
“No written policies regarding those matters existed on that date
(Sept. 25),” Keller wrote. “Subsequent to that date, the court
reduced to writing the unwritten policies that did exist on that
The written policy the court later adopted said the judge assigned to
the case should stay on duty on the day of an execution until the
execution occurs. The policy also said “all communications regarding
the scheduled execution shall first be referred to the assigned
Johnson did not respond to a request for an interview.
Two of the court’s other judges, Paul Womack and Cathy Cochran, also
were available to handle the appeal. They also never heard about
Richard’s attempt to appeal until after his execution.
Since Richard’s execution, lawyers from around Texas have filed
complaints against Keller with the State Commission on Judicial