A case filed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals alleges that former judge Vickers Cunningham called Randy Halprin, a Jewish man from Texas, a “fuckin’ Jew” and a “goddamn k**e” during his trial in 2003. It also says that Cunningham believed Jewish people “needed to be shut down because they controlled all the money and all the power,” arguing that Cunningham’s judgment of the case was swayed by anti-Semitic bias.
Halprin was ultimately convicted and is now on death row, scheduled to be executed on October 10—unless he is granted a new trial within the next month over his complaint.
Several Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and individuals have come out in support of a new trial for Halprin. On Thursday, a brief supporting Halprin’s appeal that was signed by more than 100 Jewish attorneys in Texas and several Jewish groups—including the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism—was filed to the court. Separately, a letter from interfaith leaders and a letter from the ADL were also sent to the court. An online petition asking for a new trial is gaining support as well.
Halprin faced trial as part of the “Texas 7,” a group of men who escaped from prison and were charged with killing a police officer in a robbery. Convicted and sentenced to death, four of them have already been executed. Halprin maintains that while he did not kill the officer himself, he was involved with the group who did.
The organizations that have come out in support of a new trial for Halprin say that what concerns them is not whether Halprin is guilty, but that there was no way for him to receive a fair trial under an anti-Semitic judge.
“We don’t know whether he is guilty or what an appropriate sentence should be for the acts for which he is charged,” reads the brief. “But those issues are irrelevant, because questions of guilt and punishment follow a fair trial; they do not precede it. And if Judge Cunningham is the bigot described in the application, a fair trial has not yet happened.”
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism used similar reasoning in a statement to VICE: “Our Jewish history and historical experiences compel us to speak out in support of an unbiased judiciary for all, including racial and religious minority groups who often face discrimination in the criminal justice system.”
Cunningham has denied that he is racist or anti-Semitic and told the Dallas Morning News in June that the allegations were fabricated. Family members and former co-workers of his, however, have repeatedly described him as racist. In 2018, after losing his run for Dallas County Commissioner in a runoff, Cunningham admitted to rumors that he once set up a trust to be given to his children if, and only if, they married a white Christian of the opposite sex.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.