Mar 20 2013
More than 100 prominent civil rights leaders, lawyers, politicians and clergy are calling on the state of Texas to provide a new fair sentencing hearing for Duane Buck, the African American man who was put on death row in 1997 after the jury was told he was a danger to society because he was black.
The Buck case is rapidly becoming a focal point for anxieties that the application of the death penalty across America is riddled with racial discrimination. Last week an appeal was filed in the Buck case that included new research showing that at the time of his sentence black defendants in Houston, Texas – the death penalty capital of the US – were three times more likely to be charged with a capital crime than whites.
The statement put out by 102 national and Texan leaders calls for a new fair sentencing hearing for Buck that would be free from racial bias. “The state of Texas cannot condone any form of racial discrimination in the courtroom. The use of race in sentencing poisons the legal process and breeds cynicism in the judiciary,” it says.
The signatories include Linda Geffin, who was one of the prosecutors in the original trial of Buck, as well as Phyllis Taylor who was shot by Buck but survived. The statement says that Taylor has “forgiven Mr Buck and does not wish to see him executed”.
Other signatories include the NAACP president Todd Jealous, the president of the American Bar Association Laurel Bellows, 10 members of the Texas legislature, 17 former prosecutors and judges from Texas and around the country and several church leaders. Jealous said: “This case is a blatant example of racial bias being allowed to seep into a justice system that is supposed to be fair and equitable to all.”
There is no question of Buck’s guilt in the 1995 murder at gunpoint of his former girlfriend Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. The issue in this case is the role that race played in the decision to send him to his death.