Racist Sentiments Behind Texas Man's Death Sentence Are Unnerving

syringeA man in Texas was just hours away from facing lethal injection when the US Supreme Court intervened. Duane Buck has been on death row for 16 years after being convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and a man in her apartment in July 1995, but his dogged lawyers don't believe he got a fair trial. While Buck's innocence is not up for debate, his sentencing is. His lawyers believe that Buck was given the death penalty in part because of a psychologist's testimony that said Buck posed a future danger to society, that he was more likely to be violent, because he is black.


Buck's lawyers asked Governor Rick Perry as well as the Supreme Court for a new sentence hearing since the racist "declaration about truth" (that's how "testimony" is defined) most likely swayed the jury. Governor Perry wasn't given a chance to respond -- the Supreme Court beat him to the punch and granted a review of the appeal and Buck a stay of execution.

(Anyone else a little bit terrified at what Gov. Perry would have done given the chance?)

When the lawyers called Buck to let him know the good, unexpected news, Buck was overwhelmed. "Praise the Lord!" he told a Texas Criminal Justice spokesman. "God is worthy to be praised. God's mercy triumphs over judgment."

While Buck and his lawyers feel a bit of relief right now, history is not on their side. As ABC News points out, Buck's case was one of six of its kind that lawyers wanted to reopen and have re-sentenced based on racist testimony that was in their first trial. Of those six cases, five have indeed been re-sentenced. But each time, the convict again received the death penalty.

It's a disgusting story I would have expected to have come out of the 1950s, not the 1990s. I can't believe that a medical professional, who's had doctoral training, who lives in the 1990s, who testified in 1997, can suggest that a person will be more violent in the future based on skin color. No one should be sentenced to death based on their color. And this whole idea of having psychologists and psychiatrists testifying about the future (the future!) sounds dangerous to me, anyway. It certainly proved dangerous in Buck's case.

Buck murdered two people -- that's fact. But he deserves a fair trial, one without racist testimony. He and his lawyers won't have an easy go of getting him off death row, but I'm glad they've gotten the chance to try.

What do you think?


Photo via Andres Rueda/Flickr

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