As lawyers frantically tried to file the last-minute appeal that could have halted the execution of a death row inmate, the Texas judge who oversaw the only court who could hear it was preparing to shut the doors for the day.
"We close at 5," Judge Sharon Keller told a court staffer Sept. 25, 2007.
The appeal was never heard, and four hours later, convicted killer Michael Wayne Richard was executed. Now it's Keller who will be before a judge, facing charges that could end her career in a special trial that begins Monday in San Antonio. Denying the rights of a condemned man is among five judicial misconduct charges that Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is up against.
Nicknamed "Sharon Killer" among critics for a tough-on-crime reputation crafted over the years, Keller is the highest-ranking judge in Texas to be put on trial by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. The judge overseeing the trial will submit a report to the commission, which could dismiss the charges, issue a censure or suggest Keller be removed from the bench.
Keller, a Republican who has served on the court since 1994, has not spoken publicly since being charged in February. Her attorney, Chip Babcock, said the widely repeated narrative of what happened the day Richard was executed isn't accurate.