Sadly, executions in Texas are no rare occurrence. Rick Perry, the current Republican governor and presidential hopeful, has presided over more executions than any governor in the modern history of execution. One impending execution, though, is making headlines, because the man set to be executed may have been sentenced to die explicitly because he is a black man.
No one doubts that Duane Edward Buck killed his ex-girlfriend and her friend in July of 1995; there is no reasonable doubt that he is a murderer. After his guilt was determined, though, the prosecution called a psychology “expert” during the sentencing phase who testified that because Buck is black he is more prone to violence — and should therefore be executed. The jury then sentenced him to death.
It doesn’t take a constitutional scholar to see the problem – obviously any “evidence” like this should have been inadmissible, and it likely influenced the jury. Then state Attorney General (and current Republican US Senator) John Cornyn actually petitioned the US Supreme Court to retry this case and five others, in which experts had testified that ethnic minorities were more likely to continue to commit crimes. United Press International quotes Cornyn as saying at the time, “It is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system.”
At this point, the other five defendants have been granted new trials, but Buck has not. With his execution date looming on September 15th, there are only a few last ditch efforts left for civil rights lawyers to intercede . Bob Ray Sanders of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that “last week, lawyers with the Texas Defender Service representing Buck filed a petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles asking the board and Gov. Rick Perry to grant clemency for their client.”
So basically, Duane Edward Buck’s last chance at getting a fair trial is now up to the governor with more blood on his hands than any other governor in recent history. Perry, who famously refused to halt executions for people who a panel of forensic experts had exonerated or who had not been read their rights in accordance with international law, has yet to comment on the growing scandal. As the presidential campaign heats up, though, all eyes are on Perry to see if he will grant Buck his Constitutional right to a fair trial, where race is not a factor. At this point, if he really is so gung-ho about the Constitution, the least the governor could do is stay the execution and grant a retrial.
Above all else, though, cases like this call into question the constitutionality of the death penalty itself. The Supreme Court has ruled that as long as race never explicitly makes it into the trial, huge racial disparities in execution rates are excusable. Well, it turns out that at least in one state, race is very much a part of how life and death decisions were made; now one man may have to pay for it.
Photo from timmenzies via flickr.