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September 16 2011 | UNITED STATES

USA

The NYT on Buck's case: "Death penalty arbitrary, discriminatory and barbaric. It must be abolished"

 
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The New York Times

Stay of Execution

After granting a stayof execution to Duane Buck just hours before he was to be put to death in Texas on Thursday, the Supreme Court must now review the case or, at the very least, order a lower federal court to consider Mr. Buck’s plea for a new sentencing hearing. It cannot allow a terrible injustice to stand.

Mr. Buck, an African-American, was convicted of murder in 1997. At the sentencing phase of his trial, a psychologist who was an expert witness said “yes” when asked if “the race factor, black,” increased the chances that Mr. Buck would do something dangerous again.

In Texas, this is a pivotal question: if the state does not prove “future dangerousness” beyond a reasonable doubt, it cannot sentence a convict to death. The prosecution got the answer it wanted and urged the jury to rely on this testimony. The jury sentenced Mr. Buck to death.

In 2000, Senator John Cornyn, who was then the Texas attorney general, called for new sentencing hearings for six men given the death penalty — including Mr. Buck — because race was improperly used as a factor in their sentencing.

Mr. Buck is the only one who has not been granted a new sentencing hearing. The state district attorney in charge in Mr. Buck’s case refused to admit that the use of race was a constitutional error that required a new hearing. By the time the case got to federal court, there was a new Texas attorney general who refused to abide by Mr. Cornyn’s judgment.

The gross racism in Mr. Buck’s case is proof again that the death penalty is cruel and unusual because it is arbitrary and discriminatory, as well as barbaric, and must be abolished.

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