Jewish lawyers back Texas death row inmate's retrial push

A montage of photos from January 2001 shows the "Texas Seven" gang accused of killing a police officer in December 2000. Randy Halprin is bottom row, center (AFP Photo/TDCJ)

Washington (AFP) - Some one hundred Jewish lawyers and Jewish law organizations offered their support Thursday to a Texas death row inmate who wants a retrial because he says the judge who presided over his original trial was anti-Semitic.

Randy Halprin is set to be executed on October 10. He is one of the "Texas Seven" gang -- a group of escaped prisoners who committed multiple robberies and killed a police officer in December 2000.

Halprin, who is Jewish, has asked the state to delay his execution so that new evidence -- which he says could invalidate his conviction -- can be considered.

According to those claims, Judge Vickers Cunningham, who presided over the trials of some of the gang members in 2003, made anti-Semitic and racist comments about the defendants.

The judge denied being racist but acknowledged, according to local media, that he had set up a trust fund for his children that they would only be allowed to draw from if they married a white person of the same religion and opposite sex.

"This is a case that should not be. Well into the 21st century, it is beyond dispute that a trial conducted before a racist judge who boasts of his bigotry is no trial at all," the Jewish lawyers and organizations wrote in a legal motion submitted Thursday offering support to Halprin.

The US Supreme Court in March offered a last-minute reprieve to the other living member of the "Texas Seven" on religious freedom grounds.

Patrick Murphy, who had converted to Buddhism, was denied his request to be accompanied to the death chamber by a spiritual adviser because Texas policy only provided for Christian and Muslim clerics to be present during executions.

The court ruled the policy was discriminatory and in April Texas announced the state would no longer allow any clerics into its execution chambers.

The "Texas Seven" escaped from a maximum security prison on December 13, 2000, robbing businesses to finance their time on the run. On Christmas Eve, they shot and killed a police officer.

After a six-week-long manhunt, the escapees were arrested in Colorado. One died by suicide before he could be apprehended.

Texas courts ruled that the remaining members were all responsible for the officer's death and were all sentenced to death. Four have already been executed.