Allan Turner, Houston Chronicle, September 15, 2011
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday issued a stay of execution for Houston killer Duane Buck in a case that drew arguments that his punishment might have been tainted by racial testimony.
The high court stayed his execution pending a decision on whether to review his case.
The decision came about 7:30 p.m. approximately 90 minutes after Buck was to have been executed. He was waiting in a holding cell next to the state’s death chamber.
In a Thursday morning filing to the high court, Texas Defender Service lawyers argued Buck’s death sentence violated equal protection, due process and 8th Amendment guarantees under the Constitution.
Buck was sentenced to die for the July 1995 shooting deaths of his former girlfriend, Debra Gardner, and her friend, Kenneth Butler. Buck also shot his sister, Phyllis Taylor, in the chest at point-blank range, but the woman recovered and later became an advocate for saving his life.
The legal fight for Buck’s life centered on a 2000 assertion by then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn that Buck’s case was among six capital trials that might have been tainted by racial testimony from psychologist Walter Quijano.
The other five killers all received new federal court-ordered punishment hearings in which they again were sentenced to death. But Buck, whose case still was at the state level at the time of Cornyn’s pronouncement, never had his sentencing reconsidered.
Quijano’s problematic testimony came after he had outlined various factors, including race, that could contribute to “future dangerousness” of inmates in prison. An expert witness of the defense, Quijano ultimately opined that Buck would not pose such a risk if incarcerated.
The issue of future dangerousness is a key factor jurors must consider before issuing a death sentence.
On cross-examination, prosecutors asked the psychologist if he thought being black could, for “complicated reasons,” be a risk factor for future violence. He answered yes.