Jewish death row inmate in Texas could get new trial after judge is accused of being antisemitic

·2 min read
Randy Halprin in 2003.
Randy Halprin in 2003. AP Photo/Brett Coomer, File

A district judge in Texas ruled on Monday that Randy Halprin, a Jewish death row inmate, is entitled to a new trial, after the judge who sentenced him was accused of antisemitism.

It is now up to Texas' highest criminal court to decide whether Halprin, 44, will receive a new trial.

In December 2000, Halprin was serving a 30-year sentence for felony injury to a child. He escaped with six other inmates, and while on the run, they robbed a sporting goods store in Irving, Texas. The inmates shot and killed a police officer who responded to the robbery; within a few weeks, six were captured and the other one died by suicide. All six were tried separately and sentenced to death, with Judge Vickers Cunningham overseeing the trials of Halprin and four other inmates.

In 2019, Halprin petitioned for a new trial, accusing Cunningham of being antisemitic and referring to him as a "f---king Jew." A year earlier, when Cunningham entered the Republican primary for a Dallas County commissioner's seat, campaign workers went on the record saying they heard Cunningham use the N-word. Cunningham's estranged brother, who is gay and married to a Black man, described him as a bigot who set up a trust fund so his children could only have the money if they married white, Christian people of the opposite sex. Cunningham denied being racist, but said he did set up the trust in such a way because he "strongly support[s] traditional family values."

Less than a week before he was to be put to death, Halprin's execution was put on pause, and Dallas Criminal District Judge Lela Mays was put in charge of determining whether he should have a new trial. In her Monday ruling, Mays wrote that she found Cunningham "harbored actual, subjective bias against Halprin because Halprin is a Jew, and that Judge Cunningham's antisemitic prejudices created an objectively intolerable risk of bias." A new fair trial, she added, is "the only remedy."

Prosecutors who tried Halprin's case have condemned Cunningham's alleged comments but said Halprin still received a fair trial.

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