Testimony Like This Should Not Be Enough to Execute a Man

Written by Nicole Flatow

A Texas appeals court declined to allow a new sentencing hearing Wednesday for an African American death row inmate whose initial hearing featured testimony by a psychologist that blacks are more likely to commit crimes. In 2000, when the psychologist’s comments were first reported, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn declared that the state would not stand in the way of a new sentencing. But while Duane Buck has since averted execution, Texas courts have denied several motions to reconsider his case, and he remains on death row.

The exchange came about as follows. Dr. Walter Quijano was testifying about Buck’s future dangerousness — a factor in determining whether a defendant will be sentenced to jail time or death. On cross-examination, the following exchange occurred:

PROSECUTOR: “You have determined that . . . the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?”

Quijano: “Yes.”

The prosecutor again invoked Quijano’s discriminatory testimony during closing argument to suggest that Buck should be sentenced to death. Other Texas inmates have been granted new sentencing hearings because of similar comments by Quijano.

This was not an isolated incident. Other evidence has since emerged showing that the the Harris County District Attorney’s office routinely engaged in racial discrimination. Almost half of the prisoners on Texas death row are from Harris County, and blacks are three times as likely as whites to be sentenced to death in the county during the period of Buck’s sentencing. From the NAACP Legal Defense Fund: “The District Attorney at the time of Mr. Buck’s case admitted that prosecutors routinely struck black jurors from service. Another Harris County District Attorney resigned after racist emails he sent and received on his work computer were discovered. This and other evidence reveals that a longstanding culture of racial bias existed in the Harris County D.A.’s office.”

This latest appeal asserted that Buck’s counsel was woefully inadequate, and failed to raise several crucial arguments. (Remarkably, it was Buck’s counsel who brought Quijano on as a witness, although the prosecution used his testimony on cross-examination.) Three dissenting judges agreed with this argument and would have granted Buck a new trial. “The record in this case reveals a chronicle of inadequate representation at every stage of the proceedings, the integrity of which is further called into question by the admission of racist and inflammatory testimony from an expert witness at the punishment phase,” Judge Alcala wrote for the dissent.

The comments of Quijano are remarkably similar to those of federal appeals court judge Edith Jones, who is alleged to have said “racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime,” are “prone to commit acts of violence,” and made similar comments in several Texas death penalty cases she was overseeing. U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts initiated a rare formal ethics review into Jones as a result of the allegations.

Quijano is not the only expert witness whose discredited testimony has been used to sentence multiple Texas inmates to death. Another case making its way through the courts hinged on the testimony of Dr. George Denkowsi, who evaluated sixteen Texas death row inmates before he was formally reprimanded in 2011 and fined $5,500 due to complaints that he used scientifically invalid methods to evaluate these inmates.

Texas has accounted for 40 percent of U.S. executions since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the punishment in 1976. And even within the state, death sentences and executions are isolated to just a few counties, adding to the argument that race and location are better predictors of death sentences than culpability.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Dc Sharpthree
Dc Sharpthree4 years ago

Quijano testified FOR Buck, was a defense witness, and that Buck was at a reduced risk of future danger.

The prosecutor asked Quijano about his research that had found that some monorities, inclusive of blacks, were more likely to offend. Quijano replied yes.

It is not a racist response. It is true and supported by the facts.

But Quijano testified that Buck was at REDUCED risk of re offending.

Dc Sharpthree
Dc Sharpthree4 years ago

Duane Buck: Racism Claims Are Total Fabrication
Dudley Sharp

Falsely invoking racism, as with the Duane Buck case, is just another example of how death penalty opponents will apply any deception, no matter how vile, to achieve their ends (1).

The problem for Buck and his supporters is that Dr. Quijano's entire testimony, with regard to Buck, specifically, was that Buck was at reduced risk of being a future danger, the opposite of the death penalty opponents claims. No surprise.

From US Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor's dissent, IN FAVOR OF BUCK: “In this case, first on direct examination by the defense, Dr. Quijano merely identified race as one statistical factor and pointed out that African-Americans were over represented in the criminal justice system; he did not state a causal relationship, nor did he link this statistic to Buck as an individual”

In fact, the opposite occurred. Dr. Quijano's testimony was about Buck's reduced risk of future danger.

The alleged racist component from the trial never existed.

Sotomayor attempted to create a racism based claim, by taking a prosecutor's inference out of context, an inference which never stated that Buck was at future danger based upon race, as Dr. Quijano stated that Buck was at reduced risk of re offending and never stated that Buck had an elevated risk because of race, nor did anyone.

"Moreover, the prosecutor did not revisit the race-related testimony in closing or ask the jury to find

Jane R.
Jane R4 years ago

I agree with Billie S. She said it so well.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B4 years ago

The death penaltly is hypocrisy in it's truest form.

Jean Duggan
Jean Duggan4 years ago

I cannot believe that law enforcement is still using the "race card"!!!

Joanna W.
Joanna W4 years ago

oh woow

Dawn D.
Past Member 4 years ago

First part...
Crikey! No one of sound mind disputes Duane Buck should be in jail, if it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that he is guilty. But the death penalty for any one...Brown, black, white, purple or orange, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhism, Sikh or any other faith is an uncivilised act and has no place anywhere. It only turns the state into murderers and does not help anyone or bring back a loved one or bring about "closure"...A totally bull dust word of no real meaning, when one has lost someone, one loves. Closure, what's that mean? Do you close the doors on the whole event and supposedly move on past it with the memories obliterated from mind and soul. Absolute rubbish. The death penalty should be abolished in a civilised nation that is supposed to be a democracy. Too many innocent humans have gone to the gallows for things they had no part in and once dead it is far too late to say...OOPS! We made a fatal error sorry. And many have been exonerated after spending half their life behind bars with a reasonably large sum of money as compensation but what good is that when you have suffered so many years behind bars and been tainted with guilt that wasn't true.

Dawn D.
Past Member 4 years ago

Continued from above....
No it's time for death penalty condoning authorities to have a look at themselves...I bet they say they are pious church attending Christians! Got news for them they are not even the sole of a Christian's boot, with these murderous acts on their hands. Didn't I read it is illegal to have an abortion even if raped or too poor to raise a child but the same state thinks it's okay to murder human beings it deems worthless and beyond redemption...Which they well may be...But the state has no right to murder them. Every time I see a death chamber I think of the Third Reikh, Hitler, The Gestapo and Nazi's. These capital punishment devotees must, like being a second coming of the Nazi killing ideals.
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Dmitry Nikiforov
Dmitry Nikiforov4 years ago


Virginia B.
Virginia B4 years ago

Texas typifies for me all that is the worst about Americans. It is like a boil on the body of this country which would be better excised from the rest of it!!