HOUSTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review an appeal from condemned Texas inmate Duane Buck, whose supporters contend his death sentence decided by a Houston jury 17 years ago unfairly was based on race.
“His death sentence is the product of pervasive racial discrimination,” attorneys Christina Swarns, Kathryn Kase and Kate Black said in a statement Wednesday.
Without comment, the high court Tuesday rejected Buck’s appeal. The ruling was an appeal of a similar rejection in November from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court.
Buck, 50, was convicted of capital murder and sent to death row for the slaying of his ex-girlfriend and a man at her Houston apartment in July 1995. During the punishment phase of Buck’s 1997 trial, psychologist Walter Quijano testified under cross-examination by a Harris County prosecutor that black people were more likely to commit violence.
Advocates for Buck, who is black, said that unfairly influenced jurors, who in Texas capital cases must decide when deliberating a death sentence whether an offender would be a continuing threat.
Quijano, called as a defense witness, had testified earlier that Buck’s personality and the nature of his crime, committed during rage, indicated he would be less of a future danger.
Buck’s lawyers also insisted Wednesday that Texas “violated his due process and equal protection rights by reneging on its promise to ensure that Mr. Buck received a new, fair sentencing.”
Buck’s case was among six in 2000 that then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, now a Republican U.S. senator, said needed to be reopened because of racially charged statements made during the trial sentencing phase. In the other five cases, new punishment hearings were held and each convict again was sentenced to death.
The attorney general’s office has argued Buck’s case was factually and legally different from the five others and that Buck’s trial lawyers first elicited the testimony from the psychologist. They also said the racial reference was a small part of larger testimony about prison populations.
Buck does not have an execution date. He was in a six-hour window for a lethal injection scheduled for September 2011 when the Supreme Court halted the punishment.
His lawyers now are in a federal court in Houston arguing the performance of his trial attorneys and lawyers early in his appeals was “wholly inappropriate” and that he’s entitled to a new punishment trial. State lawyers are opposing the appeal.
Buck was convicted of gunning down ex-girlfriend Debra Gardner, 32, and Kenneth Butler, 33, a week after Buck and Gardner broke up. Buck’s stepsister also was shot but survived.