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New Filings in "Racially Biased" TX Execution Case



September 7, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Attorneys for a Texas man scheduled for execution in eight days are asking a federal judge to order a new sentencing trial, contending that Duane Buck's 1997 sentencing was unconstitutional.

Buck's was one of seven death-penalty cases that then-Attorney General John Cornyn wanted reviewed for what he called an "egregious error": An expert witness told juries that certain races were more likely to be dangerous in the future. While the other six eventually received new trials, Buck, who is African-American, "slipped through the procedural cracks," according to Andrea Keilen, executive director of the Texas Defender Service.

"The bottom line is that his trial was tainted by this racist evidence. So we're asking that he have a fair opportunity, in front of a jury that's not biased by this sort of thing, to argue for his life."

She says the Buck case highlights how the death penalty is sometimes applied unfairly, even after the question of guilt or innocence has been settled.

Buck shot and killed Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler in 1995, and injured Phyllis Taylor, who now says she has forgiven him and wants his life spared. Keilen says allowing race to factor into the sentencing violated both the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the Constitution.

"It's something that should not be controversial. It's something that should be obvious to everyone, both at the official level and the public at large, that this can't be tolerated when someone's life is on the line."

Buck's lawyers also have asked current Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Gov. Rick Perry to intervene. So far, Keilen says, everyone who could postpone the Sept. 15 execution has remained silent on the matter.

"Whether or not anyone intervenes - or even makes a decision until at the last minute - we just don't know."

Perry has allowed 235 executions during his 10 years as governor. He has granted clemency only once, not counting capital cases in which the Supreme Court intervened.

The clemency petition for Buck is online at scribd.com.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX