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Did a judge-prosecutor romance taint Texas murder trial?

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The lawyer says others in Collin County, north of Dallas, were aware of the affair but did nothing. "There was this sense that we are going to keep it secret, and whoever their friends were that socialized with them – and knew of the relationship – those people kept it secret as part of a conspiracy of silence," Wiercioch says.

Fairness of other trials at stake, too

The allegation has been swirling in Texas legal circles for years, but no formal investigation has been undertaken. Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell, both now retired, have declined to discuss the issue.

"It is a matter of Texas courts turning an absolute blind eye to a situation that is in plain sight," says Steve Hall, director of the Standdown Texas Project, a criminal justice reform group. "Legal ethicists have been outraged by the facts. This should not even be a close call."

If true, the secret affair would violate ethics regulations governing both judges and prosecutors, legal experts say. In addition, these experts say, it would raise questions not only about the fairness of Hood's murder trial but also of the fairness of every criminal case charged by O'Connell's office and tried before Judge Holland during their alleged affair.

According to an affidavit by a former assistant district attorney in O'Connell's office, the Holland-O'Connell relationship began prior to 1987 and lasted until 1993. Hood was convicted and sentenced to death in September 1990 for the shooting deaths of a man and woman in Plano, Texas, in 1989.

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