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Court of Criminal Appeals tosses murder conviction of Clinton Young

The court has also tossed out Young’s death sentence.
Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 1:35 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (KOSA) - A man charged in a double murder almost twenty years ago is no longer on death row.

In a decision Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed the murder conviction and death sentence for Clinton Young.

Court documents reveal that the prosecutor representing the State in Young’s trial, Ralph Petty, was also employed as a judicial clerk for the late Judge John Hyde at the time.

This information was included in a claim to the court, and an evidentiary hearing was called.

The one-day hearing was held via Zoom. Petty refused to appear to testify, expressing health concerns related to COVID-19 before later invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

Evidence presented at the hearing showed that Petty began working with the Midland County District Attorney’s Office in 2001 and received payments by district court judges for legal work through 2014, and again in 2017 and 2018. Petty played an active part in the prosecution case against Young, including serving as a legal advisor and drafting motions that the team filed.

The court documents state that Petty later drafted an order recommending the denial of an appeal by Young.

This all was discovered by Midland County District Attorney Laura Nodolf in a 2019 budget process after Petty retired. Nodolf’s office then sent letters to more than 300 defendants whose cases Petty had been involved in while billing judges for work.

Petty later resigned from the State Bar of Texas in lieu of disciplinary action.

Analyzing this evidence, the Court of Criminal Appeals decided that Petty’s involvement violated Young’s due process rights to an impartial judge and a fair trial.

“[Y]ou can’t serve two masters in that way. You . . . [can] either be an impartial person that the judges are consulting, or you [can] be. . . an advocate with the District Attorney’s Office. You . . . can’t do both. I mean, that’s like professional responsibility 101,” stated Midland County Assistant District Attorney Eric Kalenak in a writ hearing on Petty’s involvement.

The Court of Criminal Appeals then ordered that Young be moved back to the custody of the Midland County Sheriff’s Office. He can now either be tried again, or prosecutors can decide to dismiss the case.

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