Skip to main content

The Brief: Sept. 16, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court's surprising decision to halt the execution of a Texas death row inmate threatens to thrust Gov. Rick Perry's death penalty record into the center of the presidential race.

Lead image for this article

The Big Conversation:

The U.S. Supreme Court's surprising decision to halt the execution of a Texas death row inmate threatens to thrust Gov. Rick Perry's death penalty record into the center of the presidential race.

As the Tribune's Brandi Grissom reports, the Supreme Court on Thursday, in a rare move, stayed the execution of inmate Duane Edward Buck amid questions of racial bias in his sentencing trial. The reprieve came at about 7:40 p.m.; under Texas law, executions are carried out between 6 p.m. and midnight.

In 1995, Buck shot and killed his ex-girlfriend and a man in her apartment. Buck's lawyers don't deny his guilt, but they argue that he deserves a new sentencing trial because a psychologist asserted in the original 1997 sentencing that Buck was likely to commit further crimes because he was black.

In 2000, John Cornyn, then the attorney general, said he wouldn't oppose requests for new sentencing trials in the handful of cases in which the psychologist testified, including Buck's.

Andrew Cohen, a legal analyst for CBS News, called the decision a surprise because the Supreme Court rarely intervenes in cases in which the guilt of the inmate is not in question.

In Texas, the governor can grant a one-time, 30-day stay of execution. With Perry on the campaign trail in Iowa, though, any such state action on Thursday would have come from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Now, the spotlight may turn back to Perry, who has overseen 235 executions during his time as governor and has rarely granted clemency. As the Tribune recently reported, Perry's record has raised several questions among critics concerned about inmates' legal representation and the execution of minors.

And while the death penalty hasn't significantly factored into the Republican primary, the topic received attention last week when a debate audience cheered after moderator Brian Williams mentioned the number of executions over which Perry has presided.

Culled:

  • Two state House members, as the Trib's Ross Ramsey reported Thursday, have announced their intentions for higher office: Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, will run for the congressional seat currently held by Ron Paul, and Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, confirmed that he'll run for state Senate against incumbent Chris Harris, R-Arlington.
  • The federal judicial panel examining Texas' redistricting maps began hearing closing arguments on Thursday in a case that, as the Austin American-Statesman notes, could hinge on as few as one of the state's 186 redrawn districts.
  • As the Tribune's Morgan Smith reports, abstinence-only sex education still rules in Texas schools, but in Midland — a city best known for its oil and Republican presidents — and in a growing number of districts across the state, students will soon learn about safe sex with abstinence as part of a curriculum called "abstinence plus."

"Why nominate someone who will only alienate the very people that will help get a Republican president back into office?"Meghan McCain, daughter of U.S. Sen. John McCain, in a Daily Beast column on Rick Perry

Must-Read:

Support public-service journalism that gets the context right

Yes, I'll donate today