Murder conviction overturned because presiding judge, prosecutor had previously had an affair

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An Oklahoma man who had been convicted of first-degree murder and had been sentenced to life in prison has now had his conviction overturned and been awarded a new trial because one of the prosecutors handling his case and the judge presiding over his trial had once engaged in an “undisclosed” sexual relationship.

In December 2021, TheBlaze reported that Robert Leon Hashagen III, who earlier that year had been convicted of murdering his 94-year-old neighbor, Evelyn Goodall, in 2013, might have his conviction overturned. His attorneys had learned that Tim Henderson, the former Oklahoma County judge who presided over Hashagen’s trial, had had an affair with one of the three prosecutors assigned to Hashagen’s case. Henderson and the assistant district attorney, identified only as K.C., had “a previously undisclosed sexual relationship” between 2016 and 2018, court documents said.

“It is no exaggeration to state that the very integrity of the judiciary in Oklahoma is at stake here,” attorney James Lockard wrote to appeal Hashagen’s conviction. “If a man can be convicted and sentenced to die in prison at a trial before a judge and prosecutor who were literally in bed together, then no citizen of Oklahoma can or should expect to get a fair trial in any Oklahoma court.”

On Thursday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals voted 3-2 to overturn Hashagen’s conviction and to order a new trial. “He’s now presumed innocent once again, and he gets to start this journey over again,” said Clay Curtis, Hashagen’s attorney.

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Though the defense team gave six reasons why the conviction should be overturned, the appeals judges appeared to have been most convinced by one argument in particular: that Hashagen had been denied his right to a fair trial. “Mr. Hashagen was deprived of a fundamentally fair trial of his guilt or innocence because he was tried before a judge who should have been disqualified from presiding over the case due to a previously undisclosed sexual relationship between the judge and one of the prosecutors in the case,” said the majority opinion.

Assistant District Attorney K.C. was not merely present at Hashagen’s trial. According to reports, she cross-examined multiple defense witnesses and even gave the prosecution’s closing argument. “We both firmly believe that we were treated extremely unfairly at trial,” said attorney Benjamin Munda, who worked with Curtis to defend Hashagen. “At the time, we didn’t know why. I think we have a much better idea of that now.”

The judge who wrote on behalf of the minority rejected that Hashagen had been denied due process since the affair between Henderson and K.C. ended two years before the murder trial began.

Defense attorney Munda indicated that now that Hashagen’s conviction has been overturned, the defense team may try to reach a plea deal. If they are unsuccessful, then Hashagen will go to trial once again. As of now, no new trial has been scheduled.

Should a new trial ever happen, Henderson will not be the one behind the bench. The former judge resigned shortly after Hashagen’s conviction after three other female attorneys had accused him of sexual misconduct. However, Henderson was never charged with any crime because investigators could not find enough evidence to support the allegations.

Henderson argued that the sexual relationships he had with female attorneys had been “consensual” and that he had always ruled fairly from the bench. “My rulings were fair and supported by the evidence and facts presented by the attorneys,” he claimed at a hearing in November 2021.

Despite his claims, some now fear that many other convictions will be overturned on account of Henderson’s allegedly inappropriate behavior. “Obviously, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of people that appeared before Judge Henderson that did not know he had relationships with the DA’s office,” Curtis said.

Documents allege inappropriate touching, sexual battery by Oklahoma

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