Texas Governor Rick Perry is proud of his unprecedented record of 234 executions. But even Perry should be ashamed if Duane Buck becomes number 235. It is undisputed that Duane Buck's death sentence was tainted by race. At his 1997 trial, a psychologist testified that although the double murder Buck committed was a crime of passion, he was likely to be more violent in the future because he is black.
Buck was one of seven to receive a death sentence based on such testimony, all from the same expert. This kind of evidence, subsequently prohibited by law, is particularly harmful in Texas because under its death penalty statute jurors are asked specifically to consider future dangerousness in deciding between life and death. And in Buck's case, the prosecutor argued to the jury that they should find future dangerousness and impose death based on this testimony.
In 2000, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn (now a U.S. Senator) conceded that all seven men had been unfairly sentenced to death because of this improper racial testimony and called for new sentencing trials. He said at the time: "It is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system." The other six men received new sentencing hearings. Duane Buck did not. According to the state, Buck's attorneys failed to raise the issue in a timely manner on appeal. And so he is scheduled to be executed on Thursday.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended against clemency yesterday, leaving Buck's fate in the hands of Governor Rick Perry, who has the power to grant a 30-day reprieve, and District Attorney Pat Lykos, who can seek to withdraw the execution date. Linda Geffin, one of the prosecutors at Buck's trial (currently division chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit in the Office of the Harris County Attorney) is urging state officials to stop the execution. She regrets "that any race-based considerations were placed before Mr. Buck's jury" and contends that "no individual should be executed without being afforded a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race."
Also supporting a halt to the execution is Phyllis Taylor, the woman who survived the shooting which killed two. She said: “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.”
Perry's bona fides are safe with the pro-death crowd which applauded the fact that he has presided over more executions than any modern governor. If he would spare Duane Buck he could get applause from the rest of us.