Duane Buck Execution Stay Highlights Death Penalty Issue in Texas

Yahoo Contributor Network

The execution of convicted double murderer Duane Buck was halted by the Supreme Court in a last minute stay pending a review of the circumstances of his sentencing hearing his lawyers claim was tainted by race.

Buck's lawyers and supporters claim that Buck's sentence to death was tainted by the testimony of an expert witness who claimed that African Americans, such as Buck, were more at risk for "being a danger to society" after having committed a crime. Appeals for clemency to a number of appeals courts, the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole and to Texas Gov. Rick Perry had fallen in deaf ears.

The facts of the case are not in serious dispute. In July 1995, Buck, after having quarreled with his ex girlfriend Debra Gardner, returned to her home with two rifles. Buck shot and killed a friend of Gardner's, Kenneth Butler, and then chased her out into the street where he shot her in front of her children. He was observed laughing over her bleeding body, proclaiming, "The bitch, she deserved it." Buck was taken into custody on the scene. He was said by witnesses to be high on drugs during the shootings.

Sixteen years later, Buck has expressed remorse for the crime. This, plus the racially charged nature of the expert witness testimony, provided the basis of requests for a new sentencing hearing. This was granted by the Supreme Court a short time before Buck was scheduled to receive a lethal injection.

Buck will now receive a new sentencing hearing, presumably without the racially tainted testimony. There is no guarantee that Buck's sentence will be commuted to life. However he will live a while longer while he and his legal team fight to spare him from execution.

The Duane Buck case illustrates the issue of the death penalty and the number of executions that have been carried out in Texas, especially during the tenure of Perry as governor. The question came up during a recent presidential debate when moderator, MSNBC's Brian Williams asked Perry how he slept at night with the number of executions that have taken place under his watch. Much to Williams' dismay, the studio audience cheered the statement that almost 300 inmates have been executed in Texas in the past 10 or 11 years. Perry gave a tough answer, noting the circumstances in which convicted murderers in Texas can be executed (murder of a child, murder of a police officer, etc.)

Perry's tough stance on crime and punishment will make him popular among Republican primary voters. One suspects, were he to be nominated, the Obama campaign might try to make it an issue, but that would give Perry an opening to accuse Obama of being soft on crime, a death sentence of another sort for most politicians. If the reader does disagrees, he or she can ask Michael Dukakis, who flubbed a famous question about the death penalty during a presidential debate in the 1988 presidential race. President Obama will surely not give a similar answer if someone is impudent enough to ask how he will feel if Michele Obama were raped and murdered.

Texas resident Mark Whittington writes about state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.

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