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Lawyers Seek Reprieve for Death Row Inmate in Racially Tinged Case

Lawyers for death row inmate Duane Edward Buck today asked for clemency based on the statement of a key witness that the fact he was black meant Buck was more likely to be violent in the future.

Death row inmate Duane Buck, Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo

When Duane Edward Buck was on trial for capital murder in Houston in 1997, Dr. Walter Quijano told jurors that the fact he was black meant Buck was more likely to be violent in the future.

The same psychologist gave similar testimony in six other death row cases. In each, the defendants were given new trials to determine their sentences.

Buck, though, has not received a retrial and is scheduled to die Sept. 15 for the 1995 shooting deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. Today, Buck's lawyers asked Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop the scheduled execution to allow a new trial without racial references.

“If Mr. Buck is executed, not only will Texas have violated the constitution, it will have violated its citizens’ basic moral values by permitting an execution to be carried out that is based on an individual’s race,” Kate Black, a lawyer for Buck, said in a statement.

In 2000, then-Attorney General John Cornyn admitted the state had erred in seven death row cases — including Buck's — in which prosecutors elicited testimony from Quijano indicating that their racial or ethnic background made them more inclined to commit more violent crimes.

In the case of Victor Hugo Saldano, an Argentinian, Cornyn filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in which he acknowledged the state’s mistake and agreed a new sentencing trial was needed. “Despite the fact that sufficient proper evidence was submitted to the jury to justify the finding of Saldano’s future dangerousness, the infusion of race as a factor for the jury to weigh in making its determination violated his constitutional right to be sentenced without regard to the color of his skin,” Cornyn wrote.

Saldano remains on death row after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reaffirmed his sentence. The other inmates — except one who has been executed — also remain on death row.

Cornyn’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Buck case.

Buck’s lawyers said that he has not received a new trial because of procedural stumbling blocks, and they asked Perry and the board to commute his sentence or grant a 120-day reprieve. “The State of Texas cannot and should not tolerate an execution on the basis of an individual’s race, particularly where this State’s highest legal officer has acknowledged the error, not only in similarly situated cases, but in this case,” they wrote in the petition filed today.

Buck’s lawyers also asked current Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and the Harris County District Attorney’s office to intervene and withdraw the execution date.

Abbott’s office did not immediately provide comment, but Roe Wilson, an assistant district attorney in Harris County, said that office would not intervene. “We are proceeding with this case as we would normally with any case,” she said.

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Courts Criminal justice State government Death penalty Griffin Perry John Cornyn Rick Perry State agencies Texas Court Of Criminal Appeals Texas death row Texas Department Of Criminal Justice