Duane Buck: Supreme Court To Hear Controversial Case Of Texas Man Sentenced To Death

Duane Buck, who was sentenced to death after an expert reportedly testified that minorities are more likely to commit future crime, has taken his appeal to the Supreme Court. On Monday, the high court agreed to hear testimony in the highly-controversial case.

On July 30, 1995, Debra Gardner was at home with her two children and three friends when her former boyfriend Duane Buck stormed her Houston, Texas, residence armed with a rifle and shotgun. He immediately opened fire, fatally shooting Gardner’s friend, Kenneth Butler, and wounding another guest, who happened to be Buck’s step-sister.

Debra Gardner fled her residence amid the chaos. However, Buck followed her out of the house and shot her in the street. Unfortunately, her children witnessed her grisly death.

The Intercept reports Duane Buck was arrested at the scene. While he was being taken away in handcuffs, he reportedly laughed and said, “the b**ch deserved what she got.”

Buck was convicted of murdering Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler in 1995. However, before he was sentenced, the jury needed to determine whether Buck was likely to commit future violent crimes.

Texas’ death penalty law requires jurors to determine whether a defendant poses a risk of “future dangerousness.” Essentially, prosecutors must prove the defendant is likely to commit acts of violence against corrections officers or other inmates while serving life in prison.

According to the Intercept, during the sentencing phase, psychologist Walter Quijano testified that race “increases the future dangerousness” of an inmate.

Huffington Post reports the expert discussed numerous factors that may increase “future dangerousness,” including a history of criminal activity, a history of substance abuse, and a person’s race.

When he was asked to elaborate, Quijano said, “it’s a sad commentary that minorities, Hispanics, and black people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.” Prosecutors then asked the expert to confirm whether “the racial factor of being black, increased the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons.” Quijano replied. “Yes.”

The jury ultimately sentenced Duane Buck to death.

Although his testimony has become a point of heated controversy, Buck’s hearing was not the first time psychologist Walter Quijano suggested minorities are more likely to commit future crime.

Texas Attorney General John Cornyn said the psychologist testified on six other occasions about race and predicted behavior. In Cornyn’s opinion, it is inappropriate to consider race as a factor in the criminal justice system.

In the cases where Quijano testified, all were sentenced to death, and three were eventually executed.

Buck’s attorney, Kate Black, said, “Mr. Buck received a death sentence that is the product of explicit and blatant racial discrimination. The Supreme Court now has the opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental constitutional principle that racial discrimination has no place in our modern system of justice.”

Duane Buck was for scheduled for execution and had just eaten his final meal when he received the news that his execution was postponed. He said “God is worthy to be praised. God’s mercy triumphs over judgment, and I feel good.”

However, two months later, the Supreme Court still had not yet agreed to hear Buck’s case, a move that drew a strong reaction from Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The Supreme Court Justice challenged the court for failing to review a death sentence, which she believed was marred by misleading remarks and racial overtones. She was supported only by Justice Elena Kagan.

Although Justice Samuel Alito agreed the testimony in Duane Buck’s case was “bizarre and objectionable,” he argued that it was not enough to prompt a review because it was the defense attorney, and not the prosecutor, who called the expert witness to the stand.

Alito said “this is the only case in which it can be said that the responsibility for eliciting the offensive testimony lay squarely with the defense.” Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Antonin Scalia, now deceased, shared Alito’s opinion.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing oral arguments in Duane Buck’s case this fall.

[Image via Paul Matthew Photography/Shutterstock]