FORT WORTH, Texas — One of two living members of the "Texas 7" prison gang, all of whom were convicted in the murder of a North Texas police officer in 2000, could get a new trial over his judge's alleged anti-Semitic comments, according to sources.
Randy Halprin was convicted and sentenced to death in 2003 in the killing of Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins.
But nearly 20 years later, witnesses have testified that the judge in Halprin's case, Vickers Cunningham, was known to make racial and anti-Semitic comments against Halprin, who is Jewish.
Sources say prosecutors now agree that the 2003 trial judge exhibited bias against Halprin, which prevented a fair and impartial trial.
This is another step in Halprin potentially getting a new trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will have to sign off for that to happen.
Tivon Schardl, Halrpin's attorney, wrote in a statement that today's filing sends a clear message that the Constitution guarantees a fair trial before a fair court, and a judgment handed down by a biased judge cannot be left standing.
"Witnesses who bravely performed their civic duty in a difficult case left no doubt that Judge Cunningham harbored anti-Semitic bias towards Randy Halprin during his capital murder trial," Schardl wrote. "These facts have troubled many members of the community, including legal professionals, faith leaders, defenders of religious liberty, and others who hold our constitutional rights dear."
Schardl added that findings on Halprin's behalf would be proposed soon, and join the District Attorney in urging for a new trial before an unbiased judge.
Halprin was among the seven inmates who escaped from a South Texas prison in 2000 and committed numerous robberies, including one in which Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins was fatally shot on Christmas Eve. After a nationwide manhunt, the infamous "Texas 7" were captured near Colorado Springs.
Halprin had been scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Oct. 10, 2019, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution just days before.
Halprin and Patrick Murphy are the last two of the "Texas 7" who have not been executed. Murphy also got a stay of execution in November 2019, after the state refused to provide Murphy a Buddhist chaplain.
In a hearing last month, former judge Vickers Cunningham's brother, Bill Cunningham, was among the witnesses who testified against him.
"He should never have been a judge regrettably, should never have been a judge calling balls and strikes in a system that is supposed to be equal and fair for everyone,” said Bill Cunningham.
His brother and several other witnesses testified that during Halprin’s trial, former Judge Vickers Cunningham would refer to him as “an *expletive* Jew.”
"It’s clearly derogatory the way he phrased it. He’s not referring to Jewish people in a broad term, he says “the Jew.” And it’s clearly derogatory,” said Dr. Brian Edward Stone, a defense witness.
In December 2000, Halprin and six others escaped a prison in Kennedy, Texas. They were known as the "Texas 7."
On Christmas Eve, they shot and killed Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins. Six were caught and eventually sentenced to death. The seventh escapee committed suicide.
Before his escape, Halprin was already serving a 30-year prison sentence for beating a child. He confessed to being there when Officer Hawkins was murdered, though denies he fired a gun.
Prosecutors say Halprin is a bad man; but his attorneys argued he deserves a new trial.
This is a developing story, check back for updates.