Defendants in Texas are entitled to a fair trial but that does not always happen. This month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out the capital murder conviction and death sentence imposed on Clinton Young, a man on death row. The court heard how one of his prosecutors also worked for the judge.
The 38-year-old Young has languished on death row since 2003. He was convicted of a murder in Midland County. Young always insisted he was framed.
The Texas Tribune reported that while other appeals in the case were pending, a new district attorney found out that a prosecutor who worked on Young’s case worked for the judge at the same time. The Tribune reported he even drafted the court’s order to deny one of the defendant’s first appeals.
Texas has a long history of prosecutorial irregularities. However, this case is unusual even for the Lone Star State.
The Texas Tribune reported that the prosecutor has since retired and he agreed to give up his license in lieu of disciplinary action.
Texas’s highest criminal court ruled both “judicial and prosecutorial misconduct — in the form of an undisclosed employment relationship between the trial judge and the prosecutor appearing before him — tainted [Young’s] entire proceeding from the outset.”
The justices said little confidence could be placed in the fairness of the proceedings or the outcome of the trial due to the relationship between the prosecutor and the judge.
The court ordered Young to be taken off death row and removed to the Midland County jail while prosecutors evaluate if they want to try him again or dismiss the charge, the Texas Tribune reported. District Attorney Laura Nodolf recused herself from the case after discovering the prosecutor’s actions and said she not be involved in any prosecution moving forward.
The Tribune reported Nodolf found out during a budgeting process two years ago that Weldon Petty, who retired earlier in 2019, had worked for more than a decade as a full-time prosecutor for the county at the same time as moonlighting for district judges. Petty opposed defense motions. He also drew up recommendations of denial for the judges to sign.
Young was arrested in 2001 for his alleged involvement in a drug-related crime spree that saw two young men shot dead. Young was convicted of the murder of Samuel Petrey in Midland after David Page, a co-defendant, testified against him.
During the trial, Page said Young shot Petrey. Young denied murder. He claimed he was sleeping off a methamphetamine high when the victim died. Page took a plea deal and received 30 years in prison on an aggravated kidnapping conviction.
The Tribune noted Petty worked as a legal adviser to the prosecution team during Young’s trial. He wrote most of the legal motions, according to findings from an evidentiary hearing in the trial court last year. The judge who decided Young’s case died in 2012.
Petty subsequently helped prosecutors appeal Young’s conviction. The court said he was also being paid by the judge for legal work on Young’s case.
As Dallas-based criminal defense attorneys, we see far too many miscarriages of justice in the Texas legal system. We are dedicated to leaving no stone unturned in looking for irregularities in convictions and have a long record of representing defendants on appeals. Please contact us at (214) 720-9552.