To even the most casual observer, it is clear that Texas' justice system is plagued by serious racial inequalities. The case of Duane Buck is an outrageous example of racial discrimination in Texas' death penalty. At Mr. Buck's capital sentencing hearing sixteen years ago, the prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist who said Mr. Buck posed a future danger to society because he's black. Based on this testimony, the prosecutor then urged the jury to issue a death sentence -- which they did. Neither the judge nor Mr. Buck's attorney at the time objected to this testimony, belying a larger national problem in which defense for the indigent is horribly lacking and under-funded.
by NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc.
This testimony was so egregious that in 2000, Senator John Cornyn, who was then Texas' Attorney General, identified seven cases in which the state unconstitutionally relied on testimony linking race to future dangerousness. All of the defendants -- except Mr. Buck -- were awarded new sentencing hearings. Mr. Buck was arbitrarily and unfairly singled out in this instance.
Texas' long history of applying different standards to black and white capital defendants is on display in Harris County. At the time of Mr. Buck's trial, the Harris County District Attorney's Office was over three times more likely to seek the death penalty against African American defendants than against similarly-situated white defendants in cases like Mr. Buck's. And, Harris County juries were more than twice as likely to impose death sentences on African American defendants in cases like Mr. Buck's. The Lone Star State recently celebrated its 500th execution, a macabre reminder of how eagerly Texas doles out capital punishment.
But many people are fighting to grant Mr. Buck a fair sentencing hearing, including Linda Geffin, one of the trial prosecutors who sought the death penalty for Mr. Buck. She has started a change.org petition which has amassed over 50,000 signatories in support of a new, fair sentencing hearing. And she's in good company. Others calling for a fair trial include former Texas Governor Mark White, the surviving victim of the crime, and a host of civil rights leaders. If this diverse choir of people isn't enough to convince the Harris County District Attorney's Office, I'm not sure what is.
As former Texas Governor Mark White stated succinctly, "It's unfair to have someone on death row if they're not supposed to be there." The idea that someone's race can be a reason for applying the ultimate penalty of death undermines the foundations of our entire judicial system. There are no second chances when it comes to capital punishment. The Harris County District Attorney's Office has a chance -- and a choice -- to do what's right.
Sign prosecutor Linda Geffin's petition at: https://www.change.org/
Watch a powerful video about the case and its widespread support at: http://youtu.be/