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Ethics Trial Ends For Criminal Appeals Court Judge

By Terry Gildea, Texas Public Radio

Dallas, TX –

Michael Richard was convicted in 1986 of raping and killing woman and spent more than twenty years on death row in Texas. Judge Sharon Keller told Richard's defense team on his execution day in September of 2007 that her office would close at five o'clock, even though she knew the defense was planning on filing an appeal and couldn't make the deadline. Earlier that day, the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to hear a case challenging lethal injection - the method of execution used in Texas and many other states. Despite that development Richard was executed roughly three hours after Keller's office closed. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct later charged Keller with several counts of misconduct and her four day ethics trial wrapped up in San Antonio this week. The prosecution maintains that Keller and her staff did not follow proper execution day procedures by making it clear to Richard's defense team that they could accept an after hours appeal. But Chip Babcock, Keller's attorney, says Richard's defense team gave up and didn't file anything after they were told by Keller that her office would close on time.

Chip Babcock: The question was whether or not Mr. Richard was denied access to the court and he clearly was not. And there was access all the way up until the time he was executed. Mr. Marty was there until Mr. Richard was executed and his lawyers could have, but for some reason did not file something all the way until the time he was executed.

Judge David Berchelmann will report his findings to a 13 member state panel that will decide Keller's fate. She could be acquitted of the charges, she could be censured or if found guilty she could be removed from her post as presiding judge in Texas' highest criminal court.

In San Antonio, I'm Terry Gildea.