Texas Gov. Rick Perry is being asked to stop Thursday’s scheduled execution of an African American murderer who was sentenced to die after jurors were told that blacks are more likely to pose a future danger to the public.
Duane Edward Buck faces execution for shooting two people near Houston in 1995 while under the influence of drugs, but his attorneys say the racially charged testimony calls for a new sentencing hearing.
“No one should be executed based on a process tainted by considerations of race,” Kate Black, a lawyer for Buck, said Tuesday. “The decision as to whether Mr. Buck’s execution will go forward now lies squarely with Gov. Perry, who has the power to issue a 30-day reprieve.”
Perry, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, was asked during a GOP debate last week about Texas’ 234 executions during his nearly 11 years as governor. He said he “never struggled” with the issue because “the state of Texas has a very thoughtful, very clear process in place.”
Buck’s guilt is not in doubt. At issue is the sentencing hearing, at which jurors were called upon to decide whether to condemn him to death or to life in prison. Under Texas law, the jury must weigh whether the defendant poses a “future danger.”
Dr. Walter Quijano, a psychologist and defense witness, testified that Buck was not likely to be dangerous because he had no previous history of violence.
But a prosecutor cited the “the race factor” and asked whether Buck’s being black “increases the future dangerousness.” Yes, the psychologist replied. Prosecutors cited that testimony in their closing argument.
More than a decade ago, Texas state attorneys admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court that Quijano had wrongly injected race into the sentencing hearings for seven Texas death row inmates, including Buck.
“It is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system,” then-Texas Atty. Gen. John Cornyn said in 2000. “The people of Texas want and deserve a system that affords the same fairness to everyone.”
Cornyn, a Republican and now a U.S. senator, said state prosecutors recognized the mistake and agreed on the need for new hearings. The other six inmates got them. But several years later, new state attorneys refused to give Buck a new hearing, and courts upheld his death sentence.
Last week, however, a prosecutor in Buck’s case wrote to Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and called for clemency or a new hearing.
“Mr. Buck committed a terrible crime, and he must be punished,” said Linda Geffin, a former Harris County assistant district attorney. But, she added, “I felt compelled to step forward” because of “the improper injection of race in the sentencing hearing in Mr. Buck’s case.”
But Tuesday, the board recommended against clemency. The governor has limited authority over death cases, but can order a temporary reprieve.
Buck’s attorney said she would ask the U.S. Court of Appeals to grant an emergency stay of execution. If that fails, she said, she will seek a stay from the Supreme Court.