Death row inmate executed after glitch prevents appeal

Posted by Mark Raby

Washington (DC) - A Texas man was subjected to death by lethal injection after a computer glitch reportedly prevented his appeal from being filed on time.

The series of events is like something straight out of a TV show.  On September 25, 49-year-old Michael Richard was scheduled to be executed at 6:00 PM by lethal injection for the rape and murder of Marguerite Dixon in 1986.  Less than 24 hours before his scheduled execution, the Supreme Court agreed to accept a case challenging the Constitutionality of lethal injections.

On the heels of this decision, Richard's defense attorneys worked quickly to file a last-minute appeal.  They were seeking a stay of execution for him.

According to AFP, the lawyers had typed up their appeal but had problems printing it out because of a computer glitch.  Texas policy does not allow appeals to be filed electronically.  At 4:50 PM, the lawyers called the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, asking for an additional 20 minutes to file the appeal.

The court clerk plainly responded, "We close at 5:00."  The lawyers were unable to get the appeal turned in on time.  As a last-ditch effort, they went directly to the Supreme Court, pushing back Richard's execution by a few hours.  However, because there was no appeal on file at the state level, the high court did not accept the case.

Richard was injected with the deadly cocktail shortly thereafter, and was officially pronounced dead at 8:23 PM.

Earlier this week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to postpone the execution of another death row inmate, 28-year-old Heliberto Chi, reportedly because of the ongoing Supreme Court battle.

The case with Richard resulted in outrage among the state.  The Dallas Morning News ran an editorial, saying in part, "Hastening the death of a man, even a bad one, because office personnel couldn't be bothered to bend bureaucratic procedure was a breathtakingly petty act and evinced a relish for death that makes the blood of decent people run cold."

Yesterday, 20 lawyers jointly filed a judicial conduct complaint against the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, saying she violated the rights of a condemned man.  They accuse Keller of ordering the court to close at 5:00 and prohibiting the late appeal.

In their complaint, they say, "Judge Keller's actions denied Michael Richard two constitutional rights, access to the courts and due process, which led to his execution.  Her actions also brought the integrity of the Texas judiciary and of her court into disrepute and was a source of scandal to the citizens of the state."  They called Keller's actions "morally callous, shocking and unconscionable for an appellate judge."

The procedure in such a case is to present the facts to a special judicial conduct commission.  They can either dismiss the complaint, publicly reprimand the judge, or recommend her expulsion to the Texas Supreme Court, which would have the final word.