Thorny Texas Death-Row Case Faces Review

     WASHINGTON (CN) — A death-penalty case from Texas that the Supreme Court had reservations about rejecting years ago will face review next term, the justices said Monday.
     Duane Buck has been on death row since his conviction by a jury for the 1995 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Debra Gardner, and her friend, Kenneth Butler.
     When the Fifth Circuit denied Buck a certificate of appealability in August 2015, it noted that Buck was arrested at the scene, that police found the murder weapons in his car, and that two witnesses identified him as the shooter.
     “Buck laughed during and after the arrest and stated to one officer that ‘the bitch got what she deserved,'” the ruling states.
     The prosecutor had emphasized Buck’s race, eliciting testimony from psychologist Walter Quijano on the stand that black men are statistically more likely to commit violent crimes.
     Quijano had actually been called as a witness in six capital cases, and prosecutors invited the jury in each case to consider race as a factor in sentencing.
     Each defendant also received a death sentence, but the Supreme Court vacated the sentence of one of the men, Victor Hugo Saldano, after Texas confessed an error.
     Since Quijano gave similar testimony at five other trials, including Buck, the state attorney general flagged those defendants’ cases.
     Texas did not raise procedural defenses to federal habeas petitions from four of the defendants, but it did assert a bar against Buck. The four defendants were each resentenced to death.
     State prosecutors argued that Buck’s case was materially different since the defendant’s own lawyer called Quijano as a witness.
     Though two of the six other similar defendants had also called Buck as a witnesss, a federal judge still applied Texas’ procedural bar and dismissed Buck’s habeas petition.
     Buck pointed out Texas’ misstatements, but the court refused to alter its judgment. In that matter, the state further erroneously claimed that the defense in one of the similar cases had not actually called Quijano as a witness.
     The Fifth Circuit has rejected three appeals by Buck. Several justices dissented in November when the court denied Buck a rehearing en banc.
     When the Supreme Court refused to take up one of those appeals in 2011, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan complained that that the court had missed an opportunity to weigh in on a case “marred by racial overtones” and potential misconduct by state prosecutors.
     The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up Buck’s case.
     Per their custom, the justices did not issue any opinion on the order.
     Buck is represented by the NAACP.
     That group noted in a statement today that the “knowing reliance on false, inflammatory and deeply prejudicial evidence explicitly linking Mr. Buck’s race to his likelihood of future dangerousness is plainly extraordinary.”
     “The Supreme Court’s decision to accept Mr. Buck’s appeal is an important step toward restoring public confidence in the integrity of the courts,” the NAACP’s statement continues. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will correct this egregious error, and that Texas will acknowledge Mr. Buck’s right to a new sentencing hearing free of racial bias. Justice can only be served in this extraordinary case of racial bias by a new sentencing hearing free of inflammatory, inaccurate stereotypes.”

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