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Fifth Circuit Directs District Court to Vacate Sentence of TDS Client Duane Buck

BREAKING: Fifth Circuit directs district court to vacate sentence of Texas Defender Service client Duane Buck

Five and a half years after Texas Defender Service obtained a life-saving stay of execution for Texas death row prisoner Duane Buck, the Fifth Circuit has directed the district court to grant relief based on the Supreme Court’s ruling that Mr. Buck’s trial lawyers were ineffective when they introduced an “expert” witness who said Mr. Buck would be more dangerous in the future because he is Black.

“The Texas Attorney General and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have rightly recognized that the Supreme Court’s ruling requires a new, fair sentencing trial, free of racial bias, for Mr. Buck,” said Kate Black, Senior Staff Attorney at Texas Defender Service and one of the lawyers who won Mr. Buck’s stay of execution in 2011. “This decision gives Harris County the opportunity to put the ugliness that affected Mr. Buck’s original trial behind it.”

Mr. Buck will either be resentenced to life imprisonment, or receive a new sentencing hearing untainted by racial bias.

Duane Buck was sentenced to death in 1997 by a Harris County jury after his own trial counsel elicited “expert” testimony from Dr. Walter Quijano that Mr. Buck was more likely to commit violent crimes in the future because he is Black. Because a Texas death sentence requires a unanimous jury finding that the defendant will be likely to commit future acts of criminal violence, Quijano’s testimony effectively asserted that Mr. Buck’s race made him more deserving of a death sentence.

In Mr. Buck’s case, the prosecutor relied on this “evidence” to argue that the jury should find Mr. Buck a future danger. The jury agreed and sentenced Mr. Buck to death. Notwithstanding the jury’s prediction that he would be dangerous in the future, Mr. Buck has had no disciplinary infractions in his more than 20 years on death row.

“The Fifth Circuit’s decision provides Harris County the opportunity to acknowledge that racial bias has no place in the criminal justice system and that it is time to move on from this unfortunate time in our history,” says Kathryn Kase, Senior Counsel at Texas Defender Service and counsel to Mr. Buck. “Harris County can do just that by settling Mr. Buck’s case.”

Ms. Black took on Mr. Buck’s case when he had an execution date and saved his life when she won him a stay of execution on September 14, 2011, from the United States Supreme Court. That stay of execution allowed Ms. Black to assemble a larger team to defend Mr. Buck, including Christina Swarns of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF), and Sam Spital of Holland & Knight, all of whom were instrumental in obtaining the ruling from the Fifth Circuit today.

“When I began reviewing Duane’s case back in 2011, I was shocked that his death sentence was allowed to stand despite this terrible example of racial bias,” Ms. Black said. “The TDS legal team is grateful to our partners at LDF, in particular to Christina Swarns, who so artfully argued on Mr. Buck’s behalf in the Supreme Court. It was a team that would not rest until this injustice was addressed. ”

“Kate Black took on this case when other lawyers would not,” said Amanda Marzullo, Executive Director of Texas Defender Service. “This is exactly why Texas Defender Service exists: to obtain justice when others have given up.”

Texas Defender Service is a nonprofit law firm that works for a better, more equitable criminal justice system, particularly in the state’s administration of capital punishment. Watch for our upcoming case in the Supreme Court, Ayestas v. Davis, to be argued in the Supreme Court in the fall term.

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Note to Editors:
The Fifth Circuit order is here.

The Supreme Court’s opinion is here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Thursday, April 13, 2017
CONTACT: Kate Black, kateblack@TexasDefender.org

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