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Case Updates6/06/16U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Texas Death Penalty Case Challenging Racial Bias and Ineffective Lawyering 2/05/16LDF Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Review Duane Buck's Racially Biased Death Sentence 8/21/15Texas Fifth Circuit Rejects Appeal in the Case of Duane Buck 11/20/13Divided Court Denies Case Where Race Impacted Death Sentence 8/20/13Harry Belafonte Joins More Than 100 Civil Rights Leaders, Elected Officials, Clergy, Former Prosecutors and Judges, Past ABA Presidents, and a Former TX Governor in Calling For a New, Fair Sentencing Hearing For Duane Buck
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Duane Buck-Brief of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association 8/04/16
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Criminal Justice | Capital Punishment
Update June 6, 2016: Oral argument in Buck v. Davis will be held on October 5, 2016. Counsel of record for Mr. Buck is Christina Swarns of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and co-counsel are Kate Black and Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service and Sam Spital of Holland & Knight.
At Duane Buck’s 1997 capital sentencing hearing in Harris County (Houston), Texas, the trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Mr. Buck posed a future danger to society because he is black. The prosecutor relied on this testimony in arguing in favor of a death sentence.
Mr. Buck's death sentence is an unconstitutional product of racial discrimination. Mr. Buck has asked the United States Supreme Court to review his case, filing a petition for certiorari that presents the following question: "Duane Buck's death penalty case raises a pressing issue of national importance: whether, and to what extent, the criminal justice system tolerates racial bias and discrimination." Click here to read the February 4, 2016 petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court in this case.
More than 100 prominent individuals from Texas and throughout the country, including civil rights leaders, elected officials, clergy, former prosecutors and judges, past ABA presidents, and a former Texas governor, are calling for a new, fair sentencing for Duane Buck. Read a press release here.
American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows also released a statement in support of a new sentencing hearing. Read the statement here.
On April 16, 2013, several prominent Texans submitted testimony to the Texas House of Representatives Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in support of the Racial Justice Act, which seeks to prohibit the imposition of a death sentence or execution under any judgment that was sought or obtained on the basis of race. Mr. Buck's case was cited as a clear example of how racial discrimination corrupts Texas' death penalty system. Read a press release here.
New Research Confirms: Harris County D.A.’s Office Disproportionately Sought Death Penalty for African Americans and Harris County Juries Disproportionately Imposed Death Sentences on African Americans at Time of Mr. Buck’s Case
The racial discrimination that infected Mr. Buck’s case did not occur in a vacuum. Harris County has a long history of racial discrimination in its administration of criminal justice. Approximately half the African American prisoners on Texas’ death row are from Harris County. The District Attorney at the time of Mr. Buck’s case admitted that prosecutors routinely struck black jurors from service. Another Harris County District Attorney resigned after racist emails he sent and received on his work computer were discovered. This and other evidence reveals that a longstanding culture of racial bias existed in the Harris County D.A.’s office.
A new study reveals that between 1992 and 1999 (a time period which includes Mr. Buck’s case), the Harris County D.A.’s Office was over three times more likely to seek the death penalty against African American defendants like Mr. Buck than against white defendants, and Harris County juries were more than twice as likely to impose death sentences on African American defendants like Mr. Buck. University of Maryland Professor Ray Paternoster, an expert with more than 35 years of experience in criminology, quantitative methods, and related fields, conducted the study. The results are corroborated by earlier comprehensive studies reflecting that at the time of Mr. Buck’s capital trial, the Harris County D.A.’s Office sought death for black defendants but did not seek death for similarly situated white defendants in cases like Mr. Buck’s.
Read a press release on the new research and habeas petition filing.
Read a fact sheet on this case.
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.
Amicus briefs in Support of Petitioner in Buck v. Davis can be accessed here:
- Brief of Former Prosecutors
- Brief for the National Black Law Students Association
- Brief of the Constitutional Accountability Center
- Brief of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
- Brief of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
- Letter from over sixty elected officials, civil rights and faith leaders, and former prosecutors in 2011
- Letter from Mr. Buck's trial prosecutor Linda Geffin in support of clemency
- ABA Journal: Mark Walsh, SCOTUS considers death penalty case in which expert testified race could predict future violence, (Oct. 1, 2016)
- The National Law Journal: Jordan Steiker, Extraordinary Injustice in Texas Death Penalty Case Needs SCOTUS Fix (Sep. 20, 2016)
- Opinion: Tim Cole, Race and the Death Penalty, New York Times (Apr. 11, 2016)
- The Times Editorial Board, "Editorial A Texas man is due to die because he's black", Los Angeles Times (Apr. 7, 2016)
- Houston Chronicle "This week's ups and downs", November 22, 2013
- The New York Times "Condemned to Die Because He’s Black", July 31, 2013
- CNN Anderson Cooper, "Inmate on death row because he's black?", Segment 1 Segment 2 with Jeffrey Toobin, June 20, 2013
- New York Times "Victim and Prosecutor Back Death Row Inmate’s Bid for Resentencing", March 28, 2013
- The Houston Chronicle (EDITORIAL) "Race and the death sentence", March 26, 2013
- The Houston Chronicle (Op-Ed) "In meting out justice, race can't play a role", March 7, 2013
- Houston Chronicle (Letter to the Editor) "Blind Justice", March 18, 2013
- Dallas Morning News (Op-Ed) "Turn the Page on Racism in Texas Death Penalty", April 16, 2013
- Dallas Morning News (Letter to the Editor) "Grant Duane Buck a New Race-Free Trial", April 19, 2013
- Leonard Pitts (Syndicated Column) "In Texas, Black Means Future Danger", May 4, 2013
- Bob Ray Sanders "‘Race’ in case stains Texas justice system",Star-Telegram July 6, 2013
- Austin American Statesman (Letter to the Editor) "Racism Not Justice", May 7, 2013
- Houston Defender African American Weekly "Texans speak out in death penalty video", June 13, 2013
- Huffington Post Live "Sentenced By Race", June 10, 2013
- The Root "Racist Testimony in Death-Penalty Case Inspires New Doc", June 10, 2013
- Atlanta Black Star "Powerful Video Shows Racial Bias in Texas Death-Penalty Sentencing of Duane Buck", June 11, 2013
- Houston Press "Was Duane Buck Sentenced to Death Because He's Black? Will It Matter?", June 12, 2013
- CBS Dallas "Did Racism Land Killer On Texas Death Row?", June 11, 2013
- North Dallas Gazette "Is Duane Buck facing execution in Texas because as a Black man he is likely more dangerous?", June 10, 2013
- Take Part "Duane Buck’s Bad Luck: Convicted While Black in the Killing-est County in Texas", July 29, 2013
- Gawker "Duane Buck, Death Row, and the 'Dangerousness' of Black People", June 10, 2013
- Daily Mail UK "Fresh calls to get killer off death row after psychologist told jury he was 'more violent because he was black'", June 12, 2013
- Huffington Post Live "Killing Duane Buck", April 8, 2013
- Democracy Now "Prosecutor Seeks Stay of Execution for Texas Prisoner Duane Buck, Sentenced to Death for Being Black", April 1 20, 2013
- The Guardian (Live Chat) "Duane Buck case live chat: what's next for inmate sentenced by race?", March 20, 2013
- ABC-Houston "Crossroads", April 3, 2013
- TakePart.com "Texas Prosecutor and Ex-Governor Agree: No Death Penalty for Being Black", April 25, 2013
- Agence France Presse "Playing the Race Card in US Executions", June 28, 2013
- Associated Press "Bill on Racial Testimony in Capital Cases Heard", April 16, 2013
- Texas Tribune "Panel Debates Death Penalty Cases, Race Considerations", April 16, 2013
- Houston Defender Network "Death Penalty Bias Cited in Case", April 13, 2013
- Red Letter Christians "Update: Duane Buck on Death Row", March 25, 2013
- Free Speech Radio News "Headlines for Thursday, March 14, 2013", March 14, 2013
- Ebony.com "Racism and the Death Penalty: New Evidence", March 13, 2013
- BET.com "Leaders Want New Trial Free of Racial Bias for Duane Buck", March 21, 2013
- Austin Chronicle "Execution Assembly Line Gets Rolling", March 29, 2013
- Agence France Presse "Texas urged to overturn a racially-tinged death penalty", March 14, 2013
- South Florida Times "Texas Officials Pressed for New Sentencing Hearing for Buck", March 28, 2013
- Texas Tribune "Call for a New Execution Date Revives Race Debate", February 18, 2013
- Texas Public Radio "http://tpr.org/post/texas-matters-how-would-raising-minimum-wage-affect-texas", March 15, 2013
- Arise TV "Arise America - 27/03 (Duane Buck case featured at 16-minute mark)", March 27, 2013
- ACLU (blog) "March Maddness Takes on a New Meaning When a Person's Skin Color is Cause for His Execution", March 20, 2013
- Atlanta Black Star "Advocates Claim Texas Death Row Inmate Duane Buck Was Victim of Racial Bias", March 20, 2013
- Houston Press (blog) Former Texas Governor Mark White Joins Others Calling For a Proper Sentence for Duane Buck, Since the Last One was a Tad Bit Racist", March 20, 2013
- Austin Chronicle (blog) "Death Watch: Racial Bias Infected Sentencing Hearing", March 20, 2013
- Newsfix.com (CW - Channel 39) "Leaders Push for New Sentencing for Duane Buck ", March 20, 2013
- KTRK - TV (ABC Houston) "Supporters Say Race was Used to Send African American Man to Death Row for Killing Two People", March 20, 2013
- KPRC- TV (NBC Houston) "Ex-governor: Death row inmate deserves new hearing", March 20, 2013
- KHOU - TV (CBS Houston) "Fmr. Texas Governor Defends Convicted Killer on Death Row", March 20, 2013
- KUHF - Houston Public Radio "Former TX Governor Asks DA to Reconsider Death Row Case", March 20, 2013
- Texas Tribune "Lawmakers Urge New Hearing in Death Penalty Case", March 20, 2013
- The Guardian "Texas Convict's Death Row Sentence Challenged Over Racial Bias", March 20, 2013
- Associated Press "Ex-governor: Death row inmate deserves new hearing", March 20, 2013
- The Texas Observer "Death Row Inmate Appeals, Cites Report Showing Racial Bias in Harris County", March 14, 2013
- Houston Chronicle "Study claims race a key factor in death penalty cases", March 15, 2013
- Take Part "Will Texas Execute a Man for Being Black?", March 14, 2013
- BET "Texas County Twice as Likely to Demand Death Penalty for Blacks", March 14, 2013
- The Raw Story "Study: blacks twice as likely as whites to be executed", March 14, 2013
- Daily Mail "Black people are three times more likely to face the death sentence in Houston than whites, study finds", March 14, 2013
- Public News Service "Report: Racial Bias Prevalent When TX Man Sentenced to Death", March 14, 2013
- Red Letter Christians "Celebrating the Interruption of Death", March 13, 2013
- Mother Jones "Study: Blacks Twice as Likely as Whites to Get Death Penalty in This Texas County", March 13, 2013
- ColorLines "Study: Harris County, Texas Juries Twice As Likely to Demand Death Penalty for Black Defendants Than White", March 13, 2013
- The Guardian "Research exposes racial discrimination in America's death penalty capital", March 13, 2013
- Houston Chronicle, "Harris Death Penalties Show Racial Pattern," November 14, 2011
- Texas Tribune, "Duane Buck Prosecutor Urges Clemency," September 12, 2011
- Washington Post “On Faith” Blog, “A Victim’s Plea For Clemency For Duane Buck,” September 15, 2011
- New York Times Editorial, September 16, 2011
- Austin American-Statesman Editorial, September 19, 2011
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial, September 18, 2011
- Houston Chronicle Editorial, November 15, 2011
- Houston Chronicle Column, September 12, 2011
1 “You heard from Dr. Quijano, who had a lot of experience in the Texas Department of Corrections, who told you that there was a probability that the man would commit future acts of violence.” Source: State's Closing Argument, Cause No. 699684, Reporter's Record, Volume 28, p. 260 (1997).