Even Duane Buck’s lawyer recognized the “terrible facts” of his execution-style shootings of an ex-girlfriend and a man in her Houston apartment in 1995, while her three children looked on. In arguing against Buck’s death sentence before the U.S. Supreme Court, however, NAACP attorney Christina Swarns said yesterday that Buck is simply on death row because he is black, reports the Houston Chronicle. Buck was “condemned to death and is facing execution based on a death sentence that was contaminated by racial bias,” she said afterward on the courthouse steps.
Justices on both sides of the ideological divide agreed that something went awry when an “expert” psychologist was allowed to testify that Buck’s race increased the odds that he posed a future danger to society, the threshold for imposing the death penalty in Texas. From the left, Justice Elena Kagan called it “wildly” prejudicial, the more so because the testimony was elicited by Buck’s own trial lawyer. From the right, Justice Samuel Alito said “what occurred at the penalty phase of this trial is indefensible.” At issue is whether the law requires the courts to revisit his death sentence, as his lawyers and a host of civil rights and anti-death penalty groups have demanded over the past two decades.