By Caleb Slinkard
Administrative Judge Mary Murphy recused 196th District Judge Steve Tittle from the Bernard Dale Kelly, Jr. trial, approximately three weeks after the Sixth Court of Appeals in Texarkana reversed Tittle’s sentencing decision in the case and remanded it for a new trial.
Hunt County District Attorney Noble Walker and defense attorney Cariann Abramson submitted a joint motion to recuse Tittle from the case. Murphy’s decision was also based on an affidavit from presiding juror Megan Jones.
“Having never been called for jury selection before, I didn’t know what to expect,” Jones said in a sworn statement. “Even with my inexperience, I soon realized that this case was unusual. The courtroom atmosphere was tense during the jury selection, and it was obvious that Judge Tittle had run out of patience.”
Jones went on to say that it appeared that Tittle was “fighting against the attorneys, both the prosecution and the defense.”
Murphy assigned Judge B. Michael Chitty of the 422nd District Court in Kaufman County to hear the case.
The case was originally reversed and remanded by the Sixth District Court of Appeals after Tittle refused to let the defense attorney change Kelly’s election so that the jury, instead of Tittle, could assess punishment.
The appellate court found that Tittle “erred in not submitting punishment to the jury.” Hunt County District Attorney Noble Walker conceded that the trial court committed reversible error.
The proceedings were punctuated by conflict between the district attorney’s office and Tittle, according to the appellate court’s opinion.
“Throughout the proceedings, the trial court and the State antagonized each other,” the opinion read.
At one point, Tittle warned Assistant District Attorney Lauren Hudgeons that he had duct tape in his desk and that he would not tolerate any more outbursts. According to the court opinion, Tittle told Hudgeons “[I am] surprised you still have your law license” and accused the prosecutor of committing “prosecutorial misconduct.” Hudgeons accused Tittle of conducting a “sham trial.”
This is the second time this month that Tittle has been recused from a case. On Jan. 7, Tittle voluntarily recused himself from the Hunt County Jail lawsuit after attorneys representing Hunt County filed a motion to recuse with Murphy. According to the motion, the attorneys received information indicating that the “impartiality of Judge Tittle might reasonably be questioned.” Tittle said he had already planned on asking for a different judge to hear the case.