Two Texas death row inmates will get their day in Supreme Court

This fall, the high court will examine the cases of convicted murderers Duane Buck and Bobby Moore, who say their constitutional protections were violated.

Jon Elswick/AP/File
The Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, D.C. in February.

Two African-American death row inmates will have their cases reviewed by the Supreme Court later this year to determine if their death sentences are valid.

The high court’s justices decided Monday to hear the appeals of Texas inmates Duane Buck and Bobby Moore, neither of which is expected to contend with the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.

Mr. Moore was convicted of capital murder in 1980 after he fatally shot a grocery clerk while committing a robbery. His legal team now says he should be exempt from execution because he is intellectually disabled. They also contend that following through with an execution after more than 35 years of living with his death sentence would cause him “needless pain and suffering in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” according to The Associated Press.

Mr. Buck was convicted of capital murder after killing his ex-girlfriend and a male friend of hers in 1995. The Court accepted Buck’s appeal to review racially charged comments made during his initial sentencing, which he says impacted the trial's outcome.

Buck was almost executed in 2011 but was granted a reprieve, although his request to have his case heard by the Supreme Court was declined at the time. In 2014, he requested a full case review, which was also denied. He now argues that the order for his execution was made without “equal protection and due process” guaranteed under the Constitution, due to comments a defense witness made during the 1997 penalty phase of his original case that may have changed the outcome of his sentencing.

During that phase, his defense called psychologist Walter Quijano to testify on Buck’s potential future threat to society if he were to avoid the death penalty. Mr. Quijano, who for many years was the chief psychologist at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, had concluded in a report that black and Hispanic lawbreakers are more likely to commit violence in the future.

Three Supreme Court justices at the time noted Quijano’s testimony as “bizarre and objectionable,” but the court declined the case as the doctor was called to testify by the defense, not the prosecution. That Quijano’s remarks were referenced by the prosecution separated Buck’s case from several other Texas capital cases that called on the psychologist and were later reviewed, although their new punishment hearings all resulted in reasserted death penalties.

Moore, who was previously found to have “significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning” paired with an intelligence quotient level under 70, now also says that Texas courts’ standards for determining disability are incorrect.

His attorneys cited Atkins v. Virginia, a 2002 case that halted the executions of mentally disabled criminals, determining the practice to constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. That opinion is supported by a 2014 Texas judicial decision that updated the terminology to “intellectually disabled.”

Moore says that he would likely not be sentenced to death if assessed under current standards. Both his and Buck’s high court cases will be argued this fall.

This report includes material from the Associated Press. 

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