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Death row inmate’s murder conviction overturned after prosecutor found working for judge

The highest criminal court in Texas overturned a death row inmate’s capital murder conviction Wednesday after discovering one of the prosecutors in the 2003 trial was clerking for a judge presiding over the case, the Associated Press reported.

The quid-pro-quo between Midland County State District Judge John Hyde and then-Prosecutor Weldon Petty was in violation of Clinton Young’s right to a fair trial, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled.

Young was sentenced to death in the shooting of a man during a 2001 drug crime spree that hit Texas. The judge died in 2012, but Midland County prosecutors uncovered the paid agreement between Hyde and Petty, who was also working for another district judge.

“Judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, in the form of an undisclosed employment relationship between the trial judge and the prosecutor appearing before him, tainted [the] entire proceeding from the outset,” the court wrote. “As a result, little confidence can be placed in the fairness of the proceedings or the outcome of [Young’s] trial.”

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

A death row inmate in Texas had his murder conviction overturned due to apparent quid-pro-quo between the judge and prosecutor in his trial. Above, Judge Brandon Birmingham thanks the jury after the sentencing of convicted Balch Springs Police Officer Roy Oliver for the murder of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards at the Frank Crowley Courts Building on August 29, 2018 in Dallas, Texas.
Rose Baca-Pool/Getty Images

The appeals court noted that as a prosecutor, Petty would oppose defense motions while also drafting recommendations of denial for judges to sign. As part of the legal team prosecuting Young, Petty drafted the legal motions submitted during the trial and sometimes participated in oral arguments.

Petty’s side agreement with Hyde was to perform “legal work” as a judicial clerk outside of his official duties. It paid him more $9,000 over the time spanning Young’s initial indictment, trial and post-conviction appeals, which Petty handled both as prosecutor and as clerk for the judge, the appeals court noted.

The appeals court ordered Young to be removed from death row and sent back to Midland County jail under his original indictment.

District Attorney Laura Nodolf, who was elected in 2016 and who later discovered the paid agreement between the prosecutor and judge, said her office has been recused from Young’s case going forward and any decision whether to retry him.

“If Mr. Young is retried, it needs to be the cleanest slate possible,” Nodolf said. “The most ethical thing would be for us to take a step back and let another office take a look at the case.”

Petty, who worked as a full-time prosecutor in Midland County from 2002 to 2019, is retired. During an evidentiary hearing, he refused to testify about his paid work for the judge, citing a constitutional privilege against self-incrimination, the appeals court noted.

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