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Judge orders hearing for so-called Texas Seven death row prisoner

Judge orders hearing for so-called Texas Seven death row prisoner
Randy Halprin, 44, was sentenced to death in 2003 for the shooting death of Irving, Texas, police officer Aubrey Hawkins in 2000. File Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice

May 12 (UPI) -- A Texas judge has ordered a new hearing for one of the so-called Texas Seven still on death row after a lower court determined the convicted murderer's trial judge made anti-Semitic comments.

Randy Halprin, 44, was sentenced to death in 2003 for the shooting death of Irving, Texas, police officer Aubrey Hawkins in 2000.

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Halprin argued he didn't receive a fair trial because he is Jewish and the trial judge, former State District Judge Vickers Cunningham, made anti-Semitic and racist comments about the Texas Seven defendants. Halprin's lawyers said the judge prejudiced the jury against him.

Lela Mays, a judge in the 283rd Judicial District in Dallas County, agreed in October and recommended a new trial for Halprin. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said on Wednesday, though, that there must first be a live evidentiary hearing to consider whether the judge was biased against Halprin because he is Jewish.

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"Accordingly, we remand this cause to the trial court for a live hearing so that the parties may present evidence regarding the aforementioned issue," Wednesday's order read.

The court said the hearing must take place within 60 days of the order.

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Halprin was one of seven prisoners who overpowered workers at the Connally Unit in Karnes County using a detailed plan to break out of the prison. They took prison workers' uniforms, several weapons and more than 100 rounds of ammunition before fleeing north in a prison truck.

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On Christmas Eve, a botched robbery at a sporting goods store in Irving ended in a shootout between the escaped convicts and Hawkins, resulting in the officer's death.

According to court records, Hawkins died shortly after arriving on the scene and being shot nearly a dozen times. The seven escapees drove to Colorado, hiding in an RV park until January. One group member, Larry Harper, killed himself.

Under Texas' law of parties -- which holds all individuals responsible for a crime, regardless of their role -- the six surviving escapees were convicted in Dallas of capital murder.

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Texas previously executed Joseph Garcia, Michael Rodriguez, George Rivas and Donald Newbury for their role in the death.

A judge delayed Patrick Murphy's planned 2019 execution after the Texas Department of Criminal Justice denied him the right to have a Buddhist chaplain enter the execution chamber with him.

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