AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Weeks after a judge denied a death-row inmate’s lawyers a few more minutes to file an appeal, the state Court of Criminal Appeals decided Tuesday to make Texas one of the last states to allow emergency e-mail requests in death penalty cases.
Hundreds of the state’s top defense attorneys filed a petition asking the court to allow the electronic appeals after the Sept. 25 execution of Michael Richard. The convicted killer was put to death after Sharon Keller, the court’s presiding judge, refused to allow the court to stay open past 5 p.m., even though Richard’s attorneys had called and asked for an extra 20 minutes to get their appeal to the court offices.
While other judges on the nine-member court waited after hours in anticipation of the appeal, Richard’s attorneys were hit with computer problems as they prepared an appeal based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision the same day to review the constitutionality of lethal injection in a Kentucky case. Their appeal never got to the court, and Richard was executed that evening.
Richard, 49, so far has been the only person executed in the nation since the court made its announcement.
About 300 Texas attorneys signed the petition, filed about two weeks ago, including two former Texas Supreme Court justices and two former Court of Appeals justices.
“It certainly begs the question, of course, why, if they can do this so fast – within two weeks after we asked them to do it – they didn’t do it earlier,” said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “It underscores the fact that Richard would still be alive if they had done it earlier.”
Under the rules adopted Tuesday, attorneys still must bring the printed petition to the court by 9:30 a.m. the next morning. The Texas court had been one of the few in the nation that did not accept filings electronically.