"Buck case involved a terrible crime but a flawed capital sentencing process," is the editorial in today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The U.S. Supreme Court delayed the execution of Texas Death Row inmate Duane Buck on Sept. 15 to review his request for a new punishment hearing, but on Monday the justices announced they wouldn't look further into his constitutional claims.
Two separate opinions showed what took so long.
It appears the justices were wrestling over which side injected racially tinged testimony at Buck's sentencing and whether the answer to that question essentially sealed his fate.
But the court seems to have missed the point: Race shouldn't sway a jury's decision about whether a convicted killer receives the death penalty, and the possibility that it might have in Buck's case justifies a new hearing.
This isn't a matter of sympathy but of fairness.
Buck's crime was terrible. But his sentencing was flawed -- a former attorney general even said so. If the death penalty is to have credibility, procedures must be as fair and error-free as possible. A Supreme Court mandate isn't required for Texas to correct this mistake.
Andrew Cohen posts, "In The End, Supreme Court Says No to Duane Buck," at the Atlantic.
The reason there is such a gap between the realities of capital punishment in America and the media coverage of those realities isn't hard to figure or explain. The nation's attention span is notoriously scattered and short. It takes fidelity to the long view -- and a great deal of patience and attention to detail -- to grasp the many ways in which the modern death penalty "experiment" has failed so many people on so many different levels for so many reasons.
An individual story -- like the saga of Troy Davis which ended in September -- occasionally floods the national conscience. Millions of people get involved, on either side of the debate, and the scholars, advocates and tribunes who inhabit the world of capital punishment get to pronounce their points to an interested audience. But then that audience moves on to the next thing (the media either leading or following the hordes) without ever staying around long enough to bring meaningful change to state death penalty regimes.
Here is the piece I wrote in September about how Texas officials, including Gov. Rick Perry, had blown off Buck's request for equal protection under law. And here is the piece I wrote about him shortly thereafter when the Supreme Court, to the surprise of many, temporarily stayed his execution. Now that stay is over, it won't be long before Buck gets a new execution date. If, as a news consumer, you tuned in only to September's news about Buck you might think that justice was done in the case -- after all, the Supreme Court halted the execution, didn't it? But if you still think that today you would be wrong.
"Supreme Court Denies Duane Buck Appeal," by Brandi Grissom for the Texas Tribune.
The high court stayed Buck's execution in September to consider his appeal. His lawyers argued that because psychologist Dr. Walter Quijano told jurors that the fact Buck is black meant he was more likely to be violent in the future, he ought to be granted a new trial without race-related testimony.
The same psychologist gave similar testimony in six other death row cases. And in 2000, then-Attorney General John Cornyn admitted the state erred in allowing the race-related testimony in Buck's case and the others. In each case, except Buck's, the defendants were given new trials to determine their sentences. They all were re-sentenced to the death penalty.
"Supreme Court refuse to review role race played in Texas sentence," is the AP filing via the Washington Post.
Justice Samuel Alito said that might have been enough for a reversal if Dr. Walter Quijano had been a prosecution witness.
“But Dr. Quijano was a defense witness, and it was petitioner’s attorney, not the prosecutor, who first elicited Dr. Quijano’s view regarding the correlation between race and future dangerousness,” said Alito, who was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer in his statement.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said they wanted the court to hear the appeal, saying the death sentence was “marred by racial overtones and a record compromised by misleading remarks and omissions.”
“Because our criminal justice system should not tolerate either circumstance — especially in a capital case — I dissent and would vote to grant the petition,” Sotomayor said.
"Supreme Court Declines Duane Buck Death Row Case," by Nina Totenberg for NPR.
In 1995, Buck, who is African-American, was convicted of killing two people and shooting a third. During the sentencing phase of his trial, psychologist Walter Quijano was called by the defense. Although Quijano testified that Buck would not pose a continuing threat to society if incarcerated, he also testified that blacks and Hispanics are statistically more likely than whites to commit future crimes.
When the prosecutor cross-examined Quijano, the psychologist testified that being black "increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons." Buck was ultimately sentenced to death by lethal injection.
"Supreme Court Denies Cert in Capital Case with ‘Racial Overtones’; Dueling Opinions Issued," at ABA Journal by Debra Cassens Weiss.
"Race-Tainted Death Sentence: Appeal Denied," by Jenée Desmond-Harris at the Root.
Mike Sacks writes, "Supreme Court Punts Death Penalty Case: Sotomayor, Alito Square Off On Decision Not To Hear Argument," at Huffington Post.
Earlier coverage of Duane Buck's case begins with yesterday's post.