How a Texas death penalty case got to the US Supreme Court
The US Supreme Court will look at whether the death sentence of Duane Buck, meted out in Texas, may have been tainted by jurors' considerations of race. The court stayed his execution Thursday.
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At the center of Buck’s appeal is the testimony of Dr. Walter Quijano, a child psychologist, who appeared at the trial as an expert witness to testify about Buck’s future dangerousness. Dr. Quijano told the jury that Buck was unlikely to commit future acts of violence or pose a future danger to society if he remained incarcerated.Skip to next paragraph
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Quijano was called by Buck’s lawyers to make that point to jury. It was part of a defense strategy designed to convince the jury to reject a death sentence.
On cross-examination, a prosecutor asked Quijano about his findings in a written report suggesting a correlation between sex and race and future dangerousness.
“Q: You have determined that the sex factor, that a male is more violent than a female because that’s just the way it is, and that the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?”
At trial, Buck’s defense counsel did not object to this line of questioning, or to the answer.
Three years after Buck’s conviction and death sentence, then Texas Attorney General John Cornyn identified six cases in which Dr. Quijano’s testimony had improperly injected race into judicial proceedings. Buck’s was one of the six cases.
Mr. Cornyn announced that state prosecutors would not contest equal protection claims filed in federal court on behalf of the defendants in the six cases.
As a result, five of the six defendants received new trials. Buck did not.
Despite Cornyn’s pledge, the state objected when Buck sought a new sentencing hearing. Prosecutors said Quijano had been called as a defense witness by Buck’s own lawyers, not by state prosecutors.
The error and any prejudice were a result of Buck’s own defense and no fault of the state’s.
The courts agreed with prosecutors and refused to grant Buck a new sentencing hearing.
In the most recent appeal, Buck’s lawyers claim that prosecutors misled the courts by suggesting that Buck’s case was different than the five others because Quijano had been called to testify by Buck’s lawyers.
In fact, Quijano testified in three of the cases for the prosecution and in three cases for the defense.
Buck’s lawyers say reasonable jurists could debate whether the state violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by inserting race into the trial by asking the question and eliciting the racial response from Quijano. They say he should be granted the same relief as the other defendants.
“The state of Texas should not condone any form of racial discrimination in the courtroom,” Ms. Black, one of Buck’s lawyers, said in her a letter to Governor Perry. “The use of race in sentencing poisons the legal process, undermines the reliability and fairness of the sentence, and breeds cynicism in the community.”
“Mr. Buck’s sentence offends not only the United States Constitution but also Texans’ shared commitment to racial equality and an equitable justice system,” Black wrote.