Today's Houston Chronicle carries the editorial, "Texas Youth Commission made a bad hire."
Psychologist Walter Quijano has become notorious for testifying as a prosecution witness in Texas capital murder trials that black defendants are more likely to commit future violence than other ethnic groups. Now it turns out that he has also been on the payroll of the Texas Youth Commission for years, evaluating youthful offenders at TYC facilities in East Texas.
State Sen. John Whitmire, the Houston Democrat who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, says he was tipped off by members of the justice advocacy group Texas Appleseed that Quijano worked for the TYC. Whitmire, who has led the fight to reform the scandal-plagued Texas juvenile justice system, says Quijano's views on race should disqualify him from working with troubled youth.
"If someone had not brought that to my eyes, I would not have known that at this point in time they're still using this guy," said Whitmire. He wonders how TYC officials missed the controversy that erupted two months ago over Quijano's racially tinged testimony in convict Duane Buck's trial. It led the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily stay Buck's execution before rejecting his appeal.
We share Sen. Whitmire's exasperation that TYC officials approved contracts with a psychologist whose race-related court statements have triggered legal controversies as long ago as 2000. Then-Texas Attorney General and current U.S. Sen. John Cornyn denounced Quijano's testimony for improperly injecting race into numerous criminal justice proceedings.
Buck is not someone I would invite home to Sunday dinner; nor is he someone to whom I would send care packages. He is no hero by any means, despite the fact that his lawyer from the Texas Defender Service says that he is remorseful. This is the thing: His case was tainted by racial evidence pressed upon the jury by the prosecutor.
Prominent Texans -- lawyers (including one who prosecuted him), a former governor, members of the clergy, civil libertarians -- are asking the district attorney, Patricia Lykos, to delay setting an execution date and to schedule a new sentencing hearing for Buck. "The State of Texas cannot condone any form of racial discrimination in the courtroom," these leaders wrote to Lykos. "The use of race in sentencing poisons the legal process and breeds cynicism in the judiciary."
The NAACP is among the national organizations involved in Buck's case. "We believe that racism is still rampant in how the death penalty is administered," said Steven Hawkins, an executive vice president of the NAACP and the organization's leading expert on capital punishment.
By the way, Buck is not looking to go home; he knows that he belongs behind bars for life. "He realizes he needs to do time for his crime," Black said. "He is incredibly sorry and remorseful."