Duane Buck, whose death sentence in a 1995 double slaying was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court after allegations of racist testimony from an expert witness, had his sentence reduced to life in prison Tuesday after reaching a plea agreement with Harris County prosecutors.

Buck, 54, was convicted and sentenced to death after killing his ex-girlfriend and her friend in Houston. Last week, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office added two new charges of attempted murder.

Under the agreement, Buck pleaded guilty to those new charges and was sentenced to two additional terms of 60 years in prison in exchange for the Harris County District Attorney's Office's agreement to drop its pursuit of the death penalty for the 1995 killings. All three sentences will run concurrently.

In appealing Buck's initial sentence, his attorneys argued that his sentencing hearing was prejudiced because an expert witness had claimed Buck was more likely to be a future danger because he is black. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, handing the case back to Harris County for a retrial.

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“After reviewing the evidence and the law, I have concluded that, twenty-two years after his conviction, a Harris County jury would likely not return another death penalty conviction in a case that has forever been tainted by the indelible specter of race,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “Accordingly, in consideration for Buck pleading guilty to two additional counts of attempted murder we have chosen not to pursue the death penalty.”

Buck's sister, Phyllis Taylor, who was the victim of one of the attempted murder charges, has since advocated against the death sentence for him.

"Talking about that night is deeply emotional for me. So I thank the District Attorney, Kim, for agreeing to this sentence because the thought of going through another trial was just too much to bear," Taylor said in a statement.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Texas death row inmate Duane Buck, agreeing that his case was prejudiced by an expert trial witness who claimed Buck was more likely to be a future danger because he is black. [Full story]

  • A psychologist testified at Duane Buck's trial that blacks are more dangerous than whites. Buck wants a new sentencing trial. [Full story]

  • The U.S. Supreme Court will hear an appeal from death row inmate Duane Buck, whose trial included racially discriminatory testimony. [Full story]

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