Phyllis Taylor survived the 1995 shooting spree that ended with two others dead and Duane Buck on death row. Buck is scheduled to be executed on Sept. 15. Today, Taylor urged the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos to halt the execution.
“This execution would only add to my pain, and it wouldn’t give me closure," said Taylor, who survived a shot in the chest. "I would ask that Duane Buck’s life be spared. I feel that he deserves a fair trial.”
Buck was convicted in Harris County for the July 1995 shooting deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. During his 1997 trial, psychologist Walter Quijano testified that because Buck was black, he was more likely to be a violent threat in the future. Quijano gave similar testimony in six other death row cases.
In 2000, then-Attorney General John Cornyn admitted that all of the cases, including Buck’s, were tainted by constitutional error because the government relied on race as a consideration for the death sentence.
Cornyn said it was “inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system,” and promised to “continue to do everything [he could] to assure Texans of [the Office of the Attorney General’s] commitment to an equitable criminal system,” according to court documents.
In each of the other cases in which Quijano testified, the petitioner was granted a new trial. All but one, who has been executed, remain on death row. Buck’s is the only case that has not been retried.
“Texas’s highest legal officer expressly promised that he would treat all the cases he had identified similarly. So far, Texas has broken that promise,” said Kate Black, Buck’s attorney.
Anthony Graves, a former Texas death row inmate who was exonerated in October after spending 17 years behind bars for murders he did not commit, spoke in support of Buck.
“I would have thought we would put the brakes on this issue after the injustices we found in my case," he said. "I’m asking every prosecutor, every judge, and anyone that has influence to jump up and scream that this is enough.”
Buck’s lawyers asked Perry, Abbott, Lykos and the board to commute his sentence or grant a 120-day reprieve to allow time for the parties to work together.
Abbott’s office did not immediately provide comment. The Harris County district attorney’s office has said it would not intervene.