Duane Buck: Sentenced to Death Because He is Black
Duane Buck is on Texas’s death row and waiting execution for the 1997 murder of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Funding, Inc. is actively pursuing a new sentence for Buck in a campaign that includes a petition drive. Why? Because Buck’s death sentence hearing included testimony that cited his being black is an indicator of future danger to society.
Having experienced the murder of a number of relatives, I am not in the least sense insensitive to the victims of senseless killings. However, the Buck case raises serious constitutional violations. Further, the fact that a white sociopathic rapist or murder happens to belong to a racial group that commits lower-per-capita incidents of these crimes does not ease society’s tensions about the particular sociopath being sentenced. As such, the future danger rationale, if equitable, would be applied across all groups. But such rationale would be summarily rejected if applied to whites.
Buck’s death row sentence in unjust given the grounds employed in the case. Hence, I urge you, the reader, to sign the petition.
What follows is a republication of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Funding, Inc. situation summary as posted on its website site.
Racial Discrimination Poisoned Mr. Buck’s Sentencing Hearing
In 1997, Mr. Buck was convicted of fatally shooting Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. During Mr. Buck’s sentencing hearing, the prosecutor elicited testimony from Dr. Walter Quijano before the jury indicating that African Americans, like Mr. Buck, are more likely to commit future acts of violence.
Under Texas’ death penalty statute, prosecutors must demonstrate a defendant’s “future dangerousness” and juries may impose a death sentence only if they find that the defendant poses such a future danger. In her closing argument at Mr. Buck’s sentencing, the prosecutor urged the jury to impose a death sentence and, in doing so, relied on Dr. Quijano’s testimony that Mr. Buck would be dangerous in the future.1 The jury followed the prosecutor’s recommendation: it found that Mr. Buck posed a future danger and sentenced him to death.
Three years after Mr. Buck’s capital trial, then-Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn identified seven cases in which the State of Texas impermissibly relied on Dr. Quijano’s testimony linking the race of defendants to future dangerousness. One of those cases was Mr. Buck’s. The Attorney General acknowledged that reliance on testimony connecting race to dangerousness was wholly unacceptable and promised that the Attorney General’s Office would seek new, fair sentencing hearings for these seven men, including Mr. Buck (Read then-Texas Attorney General Cornyn’s press release.)
Each of the individuals identified by the Attorney General as deserving a new sentencing hearing has now received one – except for Duane Buck.
There is Widespread Support for a New, Fair Sentencing Hearing for Mr. Buck
Over sixty elected officials, civil rights and faith leaders, and former prosecutors, including former Governor and Texas Attorney General Mark White, have asked the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to agree to a new, fair sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck where race is not improperly used as a justification for a death sentence.
One of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors, former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Linda Geffin, has also urged the State to give Mr. Buck a new sentencing hearing, stating that “No individual should be executed without being afforded a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race.“
The surviving victim, Phyllis Taylor, who is Mr. Buck’s half-sister, has forgiven him. She does not want to see him executed.
Two U.S. Supreme Court Justices agree that Mr. Buck’s death sentence requires review, because “our criminal justice system should not tolerate” a death sentence “marred by racial overtones.”
Mr. Buck is a Positive Influence on his Family and Other Prisoners
Mr. Buck’s exemplary behavior while in prison demonstrates the fallacy of Dr. Quijano’s racially-biased testimony about his future dangerousness. Duane Buck is not a threat to anyone. He has had not a single disciplinary write-up during his fourteen years in prison – even though he is incarcerated in a system where prisoners are regularly punished for such minor “offenses” as having too many stamps or refusing to shave. Mr. Buck also serves as a role model for his fellow prisoners and has facilitated a more peaceful relationship between inmates and guards.
Mr. Buck is extremely remorseful and takes responsibility for his actions that led to the tragic deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler.
Mr. Buck’s Jury Never Heard Critical Evidence Supporting a Life Sentence Because the Attorneys Appointed by the Government to Represent Him at Trial and in His Initial Appeals Failed Him
It is clear that Mr. Buck deserves a new sentencing hearing. Not only did the state improperly inject racial bias into the proceedings, Mr. Buck’s defense counsel at trial failed to investigate, develop and present significant available evidence that would have supported a life verdict. Compounding this problem, Mr. Buck’s initial state habeas corpus attorney failed to expose his trial counsel’s ineffectiveness.
Specifically, Mr. Buck’s trial counsel failed to inform the sentencing jury that Mr. Buck endured a traumatic life history, surviving severe and regular beatings from his father who was a violent alcoholic; exposure to alcohol starting at just five years old; exposure to toxic substances from working in an auto shop from childhood through adulthood; the traumatic death of his mother when he was 11 years old; and because he grew up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, an area that was plagued by drug-related violence, Mr. Buck survived numerous life-threatening incidents as a young person, including almost being stabbed with a machete, having a machine gun placed next to his head, and being shot in the leg.
Texas Must Keep its Promise to Give Mr. Buck a New, Fair Sentencing Hearing
Texas’s highest legal officer admitted constitutional error in Mr. Buck’s case and promised to take corrective action to afford him a new, fair sentencing hearing in which race would not be a factor. In 2000, then-Attorney General Cornyn correctly stated, “it is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system. The people of Texas want and deserve a system that affords the same fairness to everyone.“
The six other defendants whose capital proceedings were infected with racial prejudice by the prosecution’s reliance on Dr. Quijano’s testimony have been given new sentencing hearings. Texas should grant Mr. Buck a new sentencing hearing that is free from racial discrimination.
For more information, visit the <NAACP website>.
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