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Texas execution halted over claims judge was anti-Semitic

HOUSTON — A Jewish death row inmate who was part of the “Texas 7” gang of escaped prisoners and faced execution in less than a week won a reprieve on Friday after claiming the former judge at his trial was anti-Semitic and frequently used racial slurs.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution for Randy Halprin, who had been scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Oct. 10. The appeals court ordered Halprin’s case be sent back to the Dallas County court that convicted him, so it can review his claims that his trial judge was biased against him because he is Jewish.

Halprin’s attorneys are asking that he be granted a new trial.

“Today’s decision to stay Randy Halprin’s scheduled execution is a signal that bigotry and bias are unacceptable in the criminal justice system,” Tivon Schardl, one of Halprin’s attorneys, said in a statement.

Halprin was among the inmates who escaped from a South Texas prison in December 2000 and then committed numerous robberies, including the one in which they shot 29-year-old Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins 11 times, killing him.

The escaped inmates were arrested a month later in Colorado, ending a six-week manhunt. One of them killed himself as officers closed in and the other six, including Halprin, were convicted of killing Hawkins and sentenced to death. Four of the six who were convicted have since been executed.

Halprin’s attorneys alleged in his appeal that friends and people who worked with ex-Judge Vickers Cunningham from Dallas County said he “did not like anyone not of his race, religion or creed” and used racial slurs and anti-Semitic language to refer to Halprin and some of the other “Texas 7” inmates who were convicted. Cunningham oversaw the trials of Halprin and other members of the gang.

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Halprin, declined comment Friday. Cunningham, now an attorney in Dallas, also wouldn’t comment.

Cunningham faced allegations of bigotry last year after telling The Dallas Morning News he has a living trust that rewards his children for marrying straight, white Christians. Cunningham was running for county commissioner at the time, and he lost the Republican runoff days later.

Cunningham denied racial bigotry at the time of the Morning News interview. And he told the newspaper in June that the allegations made by Halprin’s lawyers were “fabrications” from his estranged brother.

Halprin’s attorneys said they only learned of Cunningham’s alleged bias through the newspaper’s reporting last year.

Halprin, who has maintained he never fired a weapon at the officer, was convicted under Texas’ law of parties, which holds a person criminally responsible for the actions of another if they are engaged in a conspiracy.

He was the second death row inmate in Texas set for execution this month who got a stay this week. On Thursday, a judge halted the Oct. 16 execution of 60-year-old Randall Wayne Mays. He was condemned for a 2007 shootout at his home in East Texas’ Henderson County that left two sheriff’s deputies dead.

Mays’ attorneys say he suffers from delusions and thinks Texas wants to execute him over a renewable energy design he believes he created. State District Judge Joe Clayton said he wanted time to review all submitted medical records in Mays’ case.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 barred the execution of intellectually disabled people but has given states some discretion to decide how to determine mental disability.

The next execution in Texas is set for Oct. 30.

Family pets and stuffed animals are blessed in Tyler on St. Francis Day

Animals tall and small, caged and leashed, and even those stuffed and sewn with love, were blessed in a ceremony at St. Gregory Cathedral School in Tyler on Thursday Oct. 3, 2019. The pet blessing is in celebration of St. Francis Day, which honors the patron saint of animals, St. Francis of Assisi.

Tyler Professional Firefighters Association hosts kickoff event for Tuesday's Turn Tyler Pink

Ahead of the 11th annual Turn Tyler Pink this Tuesday, the Tyler Professional Firefighters Association held a kickoff Friday to educate the public on the breast cancer awareness event.

Tyler firefighter Cancer Awareness & Relief Effort (CARE) shirts will be sold at Turn Tyler Pink on the square in downtown Tyler to raise money for local women’s cancer organizations.

The event is from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday with food trucks, live entertainment, health resources and blood drives.

Tyler firefighter Scott Dodgen, CARE chairman and Turn Tyler Pink event coordinator, discussed the event’s mission during the Friday presentation at the Holiday Inn South Broadway.

Over the 11 years, $71,210 has been raised for local women’s cancer organizations, $22,300 for current and retired Tyler firefighters and their dependents battling cancer, and $2,300 for national firefighter cancer organizations, Dodgen said.

“To me … (cancer awareness) means a lot,” Dodgen said. “Every time we can donate something it’s always a joy.”

Dodgen has served as CARE coordinator for four years.

He said Turn Tyler Pink’s mission is to show the public, especially women, love and to help them find the resources available for battling cancer.

Three breast cancer survivors will speak during Tuesday’s event. Hospitality ER will also be there spray-painting kids’ and adults’ hair pink, Dodgen said.

Shellie Arnold, Holiday Inn South Broadway director of sales, called Turn Tyler Pink a good cause and said the hotel has been a sponsor since the beginning.

“It’s something we want to support and we also want to support our local fire department,” Arnold said.

CARE shirts are currently available for purchase at Carter BloodCare (815 S. Baxter Ave.), Cavender’s Boot City (2025 WSW Loop 323), Gallery Main Street (110 W. Erwin St.) and Holiday Inn (5701 S. Broadway Ave.).

Older shirts could be donated to families in need as well by contacting Turn Tyler Pink through its Facebook page, or email turntylerpink@yahoo.com. Those interested in donating to CARE can contact the organization through email or Facebook as well, Dodgen said.

Road closures in Tyler announced for CityFest East Texas this weekend

With CityFest East Texas’ festival events this weekend, there will be a few road closures in the downtown Tyler area.

From 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, CityFest will host activities on the downtown square with various musical entertainment and family friendly events.

The Tyler Police Department is recommending those not attending CityFest to find alternative routes to bypass the downtown area.

Road closures Through Wednesday (includes replacing light pole)

Broadway Avenue — Between Elm Street and Ferguson Street

Erwin Street — Between College Avenue and Broadway Avenue

Friday through Monday

College Avenue — Between Ferguson Street and Erwin Street

Friday (after 5 p.m.) through Monday (7 a.m.)

College Avenue — Between Locust Street and Elm Street

Ferguson Street — Between Bois D’Arc Avenue and Spring Avenue

Erwin Street — Between Bois D’Arc and Spring Avenue

Broadway Avenue — Between Locust Street and Elm Street

Saturday (8 a.m.) through Monday (midnight)

Bois D’Arc Avenue — Between Locust Street and Erwin Street

Tyler police also suggest the following vehicle security measures: Remove all valuables from the vehicle before the event, lock your vehicle doors and secure items in the vehicle if needed.