Inmate Filmed for Comedy Central 'Roast' Appeals Death Sentence

Gabriel Hall's lawyers say attorneys should have been present during Jeff Ross special
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 30, 2022 5:46 AM CST
Inmate Filmed by Comedy Central Appeals Death Sentence
Gabriel Hall enters court for sentencing at the Brazos County courthouse in Bryan, Texas on Oct. 1, 2015.   (Dave McDermand /College Station Eagle via AP)

Lawyers for a death row inmate in Texas say it was unconstitutional for prosecutors to use unaired footage from a Comedy Central special filmed in jail. Gabriel Hall was sentenced to death a few months after the special with "Roastmaster General" Jeff Ross was filmed in the Brazos County Jail in 2015, Rolling Stone reports. Hall was convicted of murdering 68-year-old Navy veteran Ed Shaar Jr. and trying to murder Shaar's wife during an attempted burglary in 2011. Ed Shaar was shot and both victims were stabbed. In remarks that prosecutors said showed Hall's lack of remorse, he joked that he had "used a machete on someone's screen" after Ross asked him, "What are you in for? Hacking somebody’s computer?" and another inmate said, "Hacking being the operative word."

His lawyers say film crews should never have been allowed in the jail without lawyers present. They say Hall's Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated and the video played during the sentencing phase of Hall's trial was "inherently prejudicial." In a court filing, lawyers said Ross mocked Hall's Filipino heritage and the video "dehumanized Petitioner as a funny-looking, weird-acting foreigner," per Law & Crime. In another exchange during Ross's 17-minute talk with Hall and other inmates, the comedian told Hall he seemed like a "scary dude." When Hall said he "wouldn’t hurt a fly," Ross asked, "What about a human?" "Ah, they’re annoying," Hall replied.

The jail administrator asked Comedy Central not to publish the footage with Hall, but it was subpoenaed by prosecutors. Robert Owen, Hall's lead lawyer, says the Supreme Court should address the question of whether the "state violates an accused person’s right to counsel by giving a third party access to the defendant." But the Washington Post notes "it is unlikely that justices would pick this case to hear at a Jan. 6 conference, when the court could pluck a few cases from hundreds filed to review."

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Fordham Law professor Bruce Green, a legal ethics expert, tells the Post that the case seems ’"pretty outrageous." "To me, it would be pretty inappropriate for the prison authorities to allow a reporter without permission of Hall’s lawyer," he says. "That’s essentially what they did, but it was worse. It was an insult comic whose job it is to provoke people." (More Texas stories.)

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