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Report: Racial Bias Prevalent When TX Man Sentenced to Death


Thursday, March 14, 2013   

AUSTIN, Texas - Advocates for a Texas man on death row filed a petition on Wednesday seeking a new sentencing hearing, pointing to just-released research on racial bias when his execution was ordered. The analysis looked at some 500 cases in Harris County around the time of Duane Buck's sentencing. It found the death penalty was much more likely for blacks, according to Christina Swarns with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

"For African American defendants like Mr. Buck, the Harris County District Attorney's office was three times more likely to seek death than for similarly situated white offenders, and Harris County juries were twice as likely to impose the death sentences for offenders like Mr. Buck than they were for similarly situated white offenders," she said.

The petition cites a promise to Buck made more than a decade ago. His attorney, Kate Black, says the promise was made because the prosecution elicited race-based testimony at several sentencings, Buck's included.

"In 2000, then (Texas) Attorney General John Cornyn looked at cases in which the expert who testified at Mr. Buck's trial testified in a number of other trials and found that there was Constitutional error in seven cases," Black said. "In six of the cases, those individuals received new sentencing hearings. Mr. Buck is now the only person who has not received a new sentencing hearing."

Harris County District Attorney spokeswoman Sara Kinney noted that current District Attorney Mike Anderson has been in office for only three months and said Buck can seek the legal remedies available to him.

"Mike has given Mr. Buck an opportunity to have his case presented again to the Criminal Court of Appeals here in Texas," she said, "but they have done that before and the Criminal Court of Appeals agreed with the United States Supreme Court that race was not a factor in the sentencing."

Kinney also noted that under the current process, the district attorney reviews each possible death penalty case without knowing the race of the accused.

Buck was convicted in 1997 of killing his former girlfriend and another man. A decision on the petition is expected within the next couple of months. If it is denied, prosecutors have said they will seek to have an execution date scheduled.

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