In a jaw-dropping turn of events, the murder conviction of Robert Leon Hashagen III, an Oklahoma man sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder, has been overturned. The ruling comes after a state appeals court panel made a stunning revelation last week, uncovering a secret relationship between Judge Timothy Henderson, who has since resigned, and one of the prosecutors involved in the case. In a 3-2 decision, the panel of judges at Oklahoma’s Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the undisclosed relationship “violated Hashagen’s due process rights.”
The relationship between Henderson and the unnamed prosecutor had ended before the trial commenced in 2021. However, Judge William Musseman, in the majority opinion, expressed concern over the potential bias of the trial judge, stating that the conclusion of the relationship did not alleviate this concern.
Benjamin Munda, the attorney representing Hashagen, hailed the decision to overturn the conviction as the only just outcome, given the revelation of the relationship. Munda argued that the integrity of the entire proceeding was called into question, necessitating the court’s intervention.
Judge Henderson, who could not be reached for comment, previously asserted the fairness of his rulings in the Hashagen case during a 2021 hearing, as reported by the Oklahoman. However, the recent revelation has cast doubt on the objectivity and impartiality of his actions.
Hashagen, now 60 years old, was originally convicted in February 2021 for the first-degree murder of 94-year-old Evelyn Goodall. The elderly woman had been brutally beaten in her home during a robbery in 2013. Judge Henderson sentenced Hashagen in March of that year. Interestingly, the judge resigned only a few weeks later when three women, including the prosecutor involved in Hashagen’s case, accused him of sexual misconduct.
Six months after his conviction, Hashagen and his legal team launched an appeal, requesting an evidentiary hearing to examine the potential violation of his due process rights due to Henderson’s relationship with the prosecutor. The hearing took place in November 2021, presided over by Canadian County District Judge Paul Hesse, who confirmed that Henderson and the prosecutor had engaged in an undisclosed sexual relationship between April 2016 and the summer of 2018.
Reports indicate that the prosecutor accused Henderson of making unwelcome advances and described their involvement as sexual abuse. Henderson, represented by an attorney, claimed the contact was consensual. The state Bureau of Investigation investigated the allegations made by all three women but did not press charges against Henderson. Special prosecutor Jason Hicks stated that there was insufficient evidence to prove that a crime had occurred.
Hicks expressed his disappointment and condemned Henderson’s breach of trust in a statement, asserting that the judge should be permanently disbarred. Remarkably, it was revealed that the prosecutor had attended a pretrial conference held by Henderson for the Hashagen case in January 2018. Subsequently, she advocated for the state and questioned witnesses during the trial in January 2021.
During the original trial, Hashagen and his legal team were unaware of the relationship between Henderson and the prosecutor, further highlighting the potential bias and unfairness of the proceedings. In December 2021, Judge Hesse recommended a new trial, citing the unconstitutional potential for bias resulting from the circumstances.
On Thursday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Hesse’s recommendation. However, two dissenting judges argued that the relationship had ended years before Hashagen’s trial, suggesting it should not have affected the outcome. Hashagen’s attorney, Munda, criticized the original trial, describing it as fundamentally unfair and asserting that the influence of the undisclosed relationship on Henderson’s conduct during the proceedings was undeniable.
The date for the new trial is yet to be determined, leaving the future of this captivating murder case hanging in the balance.