HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS – Some 102 prominent persons from Texas and around the country have called on Texas officials to provide a new, fair sentencing hearing for Duane Buck, an African American condemned to death even though after his sentencing jury was told that he posed a future danger because of his race.
“The State of Texas cannot condone any form of racial discrimination in the courtroom,” their statement says. “The use of race in sentencing poisons the legal process and breeds cynicism in the judiciary. No execution should be carried out until the courts have a meaningful opportunity to address the evidence of fundamental injustice in Mr. Buck’s case. A new, fair sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck is absolutely necessary to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system.”
Those calling for the new hearing include Benjamin Todd Jealous, NAACP President and CEO; Mark White, former governor of Texas; 10 members of the Texas Legislature; 17 former prosecutors and judges from Texas and across the county, including former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Linda Geffin, who served as a prosecutor in the case; American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows and past presidents Philip Anderson, William Ide, Carolyn Lamm and Roberta Ramo; Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese; and several pastors, including the Rev. William A. Lawson of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston.
“The diverse chorus of voices calling for a new, fair sentencing hearing for Duane Buck reflects how Texas’s disturbing appeal to racial bias fundamentally undermines the integrity of the entire criminal justice system and makes each of us less safe,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, director counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc. which represents Buck, along with the Texas Defender Service and attorney Kate Black. “For anyone to trust the criminal justice system, it must be fair to everyone.”
At Buck’s 1997 sentencing hearing in Harris County, the trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Buck posed a future danger to society because he is an African American. The prosecutor relied on this testimony in arguing in favor of a death sentence and the jury accepted his argument and sentenced him to death.
Three years later, then Texas Attorney General and now U.S. Sen. John Cornyn 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 seven identified defendants, including Buck, and the state kept its word in every case, except for him.
Buck was convicted of capital murder in Harris County in the shooting deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. A third person, Phyllis Taylor, was shot but survived. A signatory to the statement, she has forgiven Buck and does not wish to see him executed.
The U.S. Supreme Court spared Buck’s life before his scheduled execution in September 2011. Although two justices agreed that the death sentence required review because “our criminal justice system should not tolerate” a death sentence “marred by racial overtones,” the case is now back in the hands of state officials.
Another signatory, former Harris County District Attorney Linda Geffin, one of Buck’s trial prosecutors, has started an online petition on Change.org in support of the call for a new hearing.
To view the petition, visit chn.ge/ZS0yov. For more information on the case, visit naacpldf.org/case-issue/duane-buck-sentenced-death-because-he-black