Press Releases

Statement from Attorneys for Duane Buck in Response to Ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

For Immediate Release: August 20, 2015
Contact: Laura Burstein, laura.burstein@squirepb.com
202-626-6868 (o) 202-669-3411 (c)

Today, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of Texas death sentenced prisoner, Duane Buck. Mr. Buck is seeking a new, fair sentencing hearing, free of racial bias, because at his capital sentencing, Mr. Buck’s trial attorneys presented an expert who testified that Mr. Buck would be more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is Black. United States Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has characterized this evidence as “bizarre and objectionable.”

A statement from Mr. Buck’s attorneys is below, followed by background on the case. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you would like to speak with Mr. Buck’s attorneys or one of his many supporters calling for a new, fair sentencing hearing.

Statement from Attorneys for Duane Buck in Response to Ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

“Now, more than ever, racial discrimination in the administration of criminal justice deeply undermines public confidence in the American justice system. Nonetheless, today, the Fifth Circuit found that trial counsel’s introduction of expert testimony linking Mr. Buck’s race to his likelihood of future dangerousness was “unremarkable” and failed to “[make] out even a minimal showing that his case is exceptional.” This decision can only deepen the growing skepticism of the fairness of the criminal justice system. No competent capital defense attorney would invite the sentencing jury to make a life-or-death decision based on racial fears and stereotypes and no court should enforce a judgment in which race was explicitly proffered as the basis for a death sentence. But because this is exactly what happened in Duane Buck’s case, he is now at risk of execution.

“Until recently, the federal courts could not consider Mr. Buck’s challenge to his trial counsel’s representation because it was not presented earlier. But the U.S. Supreme Court recently held, in Martinez v. Ryan (2012) and Trevino v. Thaler (2013), that prisoner claims that are waived or ‘procedurally defaulted’ by deficient lawyering can be heard in federal court. Thus, Mr. Buck is plainly eligible for and entitled to relief. We will ask the Fifth Circuit to reconsider, and, if necessary, the Supreme Court to review, Mr. Buck’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel to ensure that he receives a new, fair sentencing hearing free of racial bias.”

— Christina Swarns, Litigation Director for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund; Kathryn Kase, Executive Director of Texas Defender Service; Kate Black, Staff Attorney, Texas Defender Service.
August 20, 2015

Duane Buck Case Background: Sentenced to Death Because He is Black

In 1997, in Harris County, Texas, as a result of severely deficient lawyering, Mr. Buck received a death sentence that is the unconstitutional product of racial discrimination. At his capital sentencing hearing, Mr. Buck’s trial attorneys knowingly presented testimony from a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is Black. Under Texas’ death penalty statute, a finding of “future dangerousness” is a prerequisite to a death sentence. In Mr. Buck’s case, the prosecutor argued that the jury should rely on Dr. Quijano’s testimony to find Mr. Buck a future danger. The jury complied and Mr. Buck was sentenced to death.

Shockingly, Mr. Buck’s trial counsel did not object to the prosecutor’s reliance on Dr. Quijano’s testimony linking Mr. Buck’s race to his likelihood of future dangerousness.

In state habeas proceedings, Mr. Buck’s attorney was similarly ineffective and failed to raise the ineffectiveness of Mr. Buck’s trial counsel as an issue on appeal.

The Federal Courts Now Have the Power to Achieve Justice in Mr. Buck’s Case

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court held, in Martinez v. Ryan (2012) and Trevino v. Thaler (2013), that prisoner claims that are waived or “procedurally defaulted” by deficient lawyering, like Mr. Buck’s, can be heard in federal court. Now, the federal courts must use their equitable powers to consider Mr. Buck’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and do justice in this case.

State and federal courts that previously reviewed Mr. Buck’s case recognized its fundamental unfairness, but were barred by procedural technicalities from correcting the injustice. Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge (and former Harris County prosecutor) Elsa Alcala (joined by two other CCA judges) wrote that Mr. Buck’s case:

“reveals a chronicle of inadequate representation at every stage of the proceedings, the integrity of which is further called into question by the admission of racist and inflammatory testimony from an expert witness at the punishment phase. . . . As a result of prior habeas counsel’s errors and the combined force of state and federal procedural-default laws, no Court has ever considered the merits of [Mr. Buck’s] legitimate claims for post-conviction relief.”

Before the U.S. Supreme Court changed the law to remove procedural barriers to claims like Mr. Buck’s, Justice Alito called Dr. Quijano’s testimony that Mr. Buck’s race made him more likely to be dangerous in the future “bizarre and objectionable.” Justice Sotomayor wrote that Mr. Buck’s death sentence was “marred by racial overtones” that “our criminal justice system should not tolerate.”

Federal and State Courts Have Repeatedly Concluded that Mr. Buck’s Trial Counsel was Responsible for Injecting the Racially Biased Expert Testimony into the Capital Sentencing Proceedings

Federal and state courts have repeatedly concluded that Mr. Buck’s trial counsel was responsible for improperly injecting racial bias into the sentencing proceedings.

In 2013, three Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judges concluded that Mr. Buck’s case was characterized by “a chronicle of inadequate representation at every stage of the proceedings, the integrity of which is further called into question by the admission of racist and inflammatory testimony from an expert witness at the punishment phase.”

In 2011, when the United States Supreme Court reviewed Mr. Buck’s case, Justices Alito, Scalia and Breyer concluded that Mr. Buck’s trial attorney was responsible for the admission of Dr. Quijano’s “bizarre and objectionable” testimony linking Mr. Buck’s race to his likelihood of future dangerousness.

In 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded that Mr. Buck’s trial counsel was responsible for the introduction of Dr. Quijano’s race-as-dangerousness testimony.

Texas’ Highest Legal Officer Confessed Constitutional Error in Mr. Buck’s Case and in Six Other Cases where Race was Considered in Capital Sentencing Hearings

In 2000, then Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn admitted that Dr. Quijano’s testimony linking race to dangerousness was unconstitutional and identified six cases, including Mr. Buck’s, where, because of Dr. Quijano’s testimony, new, fair capital sentencing hearings were required. Texas promised to admit error in each of these cases and it kept its promise, and ensured new sentencing hearings for all the identified defendants – except Mr. Buck. Mr. Buck must be given a new sentencing hearing just like the other defendants whose capital sentencings were infected with racial prejudice.

There is Widespread Support Across the Political Spectrum for a New, Fair Sentencing Hearing for Mr. Buck

One of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors, former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Linda Geffin, has urged the State to give Mr. Buck a new sentencing hearing, stating that “No individual should be executed without being afforded a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race.” The surviving victim, Phyllis Taylor, has forgiven Mr. Buck and does not want to see him executed. Other supporters include former Texas Governor Mark White, who oversaw 19 executions, along with more than 100 civil rights leaders, elected officials, clergy, former prosecutors and judges, current and past ABA presidents. All agree that Mr. Buck is entitled to a new, fair sentencing hearing where race is not a factor.

For more information about the Duane Buck case.

State Bar of Texas Disbars Charles J. Sebesta for Prosecutorial Misconduct in Prosecution of Anthony Graves

You can read the State Bar’s Judgement of Disbarment in Adobe .pdf format

Statement of Counsel for Anthony Graves
Regarding the State Bar’s Ruling that Charles Sebesta
Should be Disbarred for Violating Ethical Rules

Statement of Kathryn Kase, Neal Manne and Charles R. Eskridge III, counsel for Anthony Graves:

We are gratified that the grievance panel of the State Bar of Texas, after hearing all of the evidence, has determined that former Burleson County prosecutor Charles J. Sebesta Jr. violated the ethical rules of the profession in prosecuting Anthony Graves. We believe the violations found by the grievance panel fully warranted Mr. Sebesta’s disbarment. We believe no prosecutor found to have engaged in the conduct determined by the grievance panel—and indeed, by the Fifth Circuit—should be permitted to maintain a law license in the State of Texas. We respect the wisdom and courage of the grievance panel in reaching this decision, and we appreciate their time and service to a matter so important to the legal profession.

Mr. Graves was convicted of multiple murders in 1994 in a trial that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit eventually determined was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct, deliberate hiding of evidence, suborning of false testimony from key witnesses, and other wrongdoing by the prosecutor, Mr. Sebesta. These violations of Mr. Graves’ fundamental constitutional rights resulted in him spending 18 and one-half years incarcerated, including 14 years on Death Row, during which he faced two execution dates. If not for the tireless efforts of other lawyers, Mr. Graves would have been executed by the State for crimes he did not commit and that we believe Mr. Sebesta knew he did not commit.

Mr. Graves’ complete innocence was ultimately recognized by a special prosecutor who re-examined the case in 2010. His innocence was officially confirmed by the State of Texas itself, which deemed Mr. Graves to be “actually innocent” and paid him some compensation for his wrongful imprisonment. Throughout the ordeal, and even after Mr. Graves’ exoneration, Mr. Sebesta continued to claim he had done nothing wrong in prosecuting Mr. Graves. Grotesquely, Mr. Sebesta continued to torment Mr. Graves and his family by insisting both in public statements and on a web site he maintained that Mr. Graves really was a murderer and was guilty of the crimes.

We serve as pro bono counsel to Mr. Graves in a grievance he filed with the State Bar of Texas against Mr. Sebesta in January 2014. Based on our presentations to the Bar, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel determined in July 2014 that there was “just cause” to believe that Mr. Sebesta had violated the ethical rules, and that it would take over and prosecute the grievance against him. Despite efforts by Mr. Sebesta to derail those proceedings, the Bar convened a disciplinary hearing against Mr. Sebesta in College Station, Texas. That hearing unfolded over four days of live argument and testimony, on May 11 through 14. The grievance panel consisted of three independent individuals (including a current assistant district attorney) who heard not only opening and closing arguments, but also evidence, including extensive live testimony from more than a dozen witnesses. Mr. Graves, his mother, his two defense counsel and the judge at his capital trial, and Mr. Sebesta were among those who gave sworn testimony.

Mr. Graves attended all of the proceedings, except for certain testimony (such as the testimony of his mother) that was too painful for him to relive. One or another of us was present for the entire hearing to hear the evidence, represent Mr. Graves, and assist as appropriate the lawyers who prosecuted the case for the Bar.

We applaud and highly commend the lawyers representing the State Bar of Texas, Laura Popps and Elizabeth Stevens, for their diligence, their mastery of the facts and law, their professionalism, and for the respect they showed at all times to Mr. Graves and his family. They represent the very highest aspirations of the legal profession. They conducted devastating cross-examinations of Mr. Sebesta and his witnesses, repeatedly exposing their testimony as mistaken, implausible, and, in many instances, incredible.

The public was not able to witness the State Bar’s effort to hold Mr. Sebesta accountable because of a Bar rule that allowed Mr. Sebesta to choose to have the hearing take place in private, closed to the media and to all public scrutiny. In urging the Bar to change that rule, the Houston Chronicle editorialized in August 2014 that “A rule that permits a closed trial against a prosecutor charged with violating the public trust does not inspire faith in the system.” We, too, urge the Bar to change its rule.

We also are very concerned by some testimony that continued to promote the deliberate falsehood that Mr. Graves somehow was involved in the horrifying murders at issue in his 1994 trial. We are considering whether additional grievances should be instituted against licensed professionals who engaged in such conduct in their sworn testimony. Whether these matters are appropriate for referral on criminal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice are for others to decide.

The ordeal experienced by Mr. Graves is almost unimaginable. In an accompanying media statement released concurrently with this one, Mr. Graves notes that now, finally, he feels truly free. We are humbled and inspired by the grace and character he has shown throughout—including when he shook Mr. Sebesta’s hand after the hearing ended and wished him well.
– – –
Kathryn Kase is Executive Director of Texas Defender Service, a non-profit organization committed to making the Texas criminal justice system more fair and just, especially in death penalty cases.

Neal Manne is Managing Partner of Susman Godfrey, LLP, a leading national law firm focused on high-stakes commercial litigation.

Charles R. Eskridge III is a Partner in the Houston office of Quinn Emanuel, LLP, an international law firm focused on litigation.

-30-

Statement of Anthony Graves
Regarding the State Bar’s Ruling that Charles Sebesta
Should be Disbarred for Violating Ethical Rules

I will always be grateful that the State Bar of Texas recognized that my grievance against that prosecutor had merit. Probably what affected me most in these proceedings is that lawyers for the State Bar of Texas were actually arguing on my behalf. I felt like Texas was committed to making this right. I am so appreciative of the hard work Beth Stevens and Laura Popps put in to prosecute the case against Mr. Sebesta, and great respect they showed to me and to my family.

I am very thankful for the grievance panel’s full attention to the trial. This was an important matter, and it takes great courage to say a prosecutor was so clearly acting against the rules of fair play that he should be stripped of his law license. But the panel did just that, and I appreciate it. It was the right thing to do, but we should always remember how much more work we have ahead to make our system fair for all.

What happened to me could happen to anyone, because I was completely innocent of the terrible charges brought against me by Charles Sebesta.

I was 26 years old when I was arrested and charged with capital murder. I spent 12 and ½ years of my life on death row, and faced two execution dates. All together, I was in jail for 18 and ½ years for a crime I did not commit. It was a long time coming, but in 2006 the 5th Circuit finally agreed that my trial had been unfair, because of the things Charles Sebesta said and did in that courtroom—hiding evidence, misleading the jury, and causing witnesses to testify to things he knew were false. He corrupted the search for truth. And in __, after an honest prosecutor by the name of Kelly Siegler looked into my case, she said I should never have been prosecuted in the first place, and the State of Texas declared me innocent.

I have waited 20 plus years for complete justice and freedom. Part of that healing process requires that those at fault acknowledge their responsibility and make amends. Mr. Sebesta has never done that. He has never apologized to me. He has never admitted that he did anything wrong in that courtroom, even after the 5th Circuit proved that he violated the Constitution. And so I thought he ought to lose his license to practice law, and brought my grievance to the State Bar of Texas. No one who makes it a goal to send a man to death row without evidence—and worse, while hiding evidence of my innocence—deserves to be a lawyer in Texas.

I didn’t know if I would ever get my day in court against him. Mr. Sebesta did all he could to halt the grievance against him before it even got started. Then he elected to do his trial in private, even though every single thing he ever did to me was done in public, and with him loudly calling me a guilty man and a murderer.

Today I am blessed to have my health, family and a purpose greater than myself which has allowed me to live freely.

– 30 –

Texas Executes Derrick Charles After U.S. Supreme Court Fails to Intervene

“We are disappointed with the Court’s response. Derrick Charles has a lifelong history of severe mental illness. While the Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute the insane – those people without a rational understanding of why they are being executed – it is a hollow promise without resources and evaluation. Derrick Charles and his deteriorating mental condition deserved that.”

— Paul Mansur, Senior Staff Attorney, Texas Defender Service, Counsel to Derrick Charles

Texas Set to Execute Man, Despite Serious Doubts About His Competency to Be Executed

Houston – Tomorrow after 6 pm, Texas plans to execute Derrick Dewayne Charles, a man with a lifelong history of severe and debilitating mental illness. As a child, Mr. Charles was so cognitively impaired he was twice hospitalized for mental illness—at the ages of just 10 and 13 years old. He was prescribed strong anti-psychotic drugs when he was only 13 years old. Mr. Charles continued to suffer from the symptoms of his severe mental illness throughout his life.

Given his mental impairments, counsel for Mr. Charles have argued that there is a high risk he is so mentally ill he cannot comprehend why the State is executing him—which would exempt him from execution under the United States Constitution. “In other words,” Burke Butler, counsel for Mr. Charles said, “there is a profound likelihood that Mr. Charles’ mental illness is so severe he falls within the category of people who are constitutionally exempt from execution.”

Despite the extensive history of Mr. Charles’ severe mental illness and mental impairments, Texas state and federal courts have refused to authorize the resources Mr. Charles needs to undergo a complete neuropsychological evaluation designed to determine whether he is competent to be executed. Three psychologists have recommended, one as recent as March of this year, that Mr. Charles undergo such an evaluation. Mr. Charles has been deprived of his right to needed resources and time to determine if he is incompetent to be executed.

As a consequence, “the State of Texas runs an unacceptably high risk of killing a person whose mental illness is so severe he cannot comprehend why he is being executed,” Paul Mansur, lead counsel for Mr. Charles said. “The United States Constitution prohibits this cruel result, which no civilized society should countenance.”

“The execution of Mr. Charles tomorrow night is yet another example of Texas moving against the developing national consensus against executing severely mentally ill persons,” TDS Executive Director Kathryn Kase said.

“This trend recognizes the injustice of exposing this vulnerable class in our society to the most extreme punishment,” Mansur added.

Attorneys for Mr. Charles have filed two petitions for certiorari review in the Supreme Court of the United States, urging the Court to provide Mr. Charles’ legal team with both the time and resources to establish that the State of Texas’ execution is contrary to the United States Constitution. “We remain hopeful that the Court will grant a stay of execution to prevent the injustice about to be perpetrated by the State of Texas,” Butler said.

###
For Immediate Release: May 11, 2015
Contact: Steve Hall |512.627.3011 | shall@texasdefender.org

Michael Morton Act Working After First Year of Implementation
Texas Appleseed, Texas Defender Service Report Examines Policies & Practices

Landmark legislation passed in the last Texas Legislature is working after its first year of implementation, despite some understandable initial shortcomings and confusion, according to two Texas nonprofit organizations involved in civil and criminal justice reform. The Michael Morton Act provides a statutory right for defendants in criminal prosecutions to have access to information in prosecutor files and law enforcement reports.

“Towards More Transparent Justice: The Michael Morton Act’s First Year,” was released today by Texas Appleseed and Texas Defender Service at a Capitol news conference. The law was passed in 2013 by the Texas Legislature and went into effect on January 1, 2014. It’s named for Michael Morton, who was exonerated and freed after serving 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Throughout his case, prosecutors withheld information collected during the original investigation that pointed towards Morton’s innocence. Such prosecutorial misconduct has been a significant contributor to wrongful convictions, and an issue in several high-profile Texas exonerations.

The report says there is no need for new legislation to amend the current law. However, it identifies a number of pervasive issues with the enactment’s implementation including the wrongful redaction and withholding of information, and delays in the provision of discovery. The report notes, however, that prosecution offices were reworking their policies even during the process of collecting the policies.

“The passage of further amendments to Article 39.14 during the 84th legislative session, would likely cause more confusion and stymy existing efforts to appropriately implement and comply with the 2013 law,” the report states.

Appleseed & TDS filed requests with every county and district attorney’s office in Texas to obtain the written policies each office used for implementing the Morton Act’s requirements. The organizations evaluated those policies against the requirements stated in the law.

“A law that changes processes in every single criminal case in all 254 counties will have a steep learning curve,” said Mary Schmid Mergler, of Texas Appleseed. “It’s been very encouraging to see every segment of the criminal justice system appreciate the need for these changes and really strive to make it work quickly.”

“Some predicted that the Michael Morton Act would unduly burden prosecutors, but our findings suggest that most prosecution offices have made the transition to a more open and transparent discovery process,” Kase said. “Criminal discovery is an important key to ensuring that the constitutional rights of those charged with crimes are protected. As prosecutors and law enforcement become more comfortable with the Act’s requirements, we have hope that the risk of wrongful convictions will decrease.”

The report recognizes that a number of offices have made great strides towards increasing transparency in the criminal discovery process. El Paso, and Tarrant County District Attorney offices were recognized among larger, urban counties for their efforts to make discovery available to defense counsel via an online system and for Tarrant County’s practice of making this materials available at an early point in the proceedings against the accused. Many smaller jurisdictions have also integrated the discovery process into their case screening procedures, thereby minimizing the time invested in each case and making materials available to the defense in a timely manner.

The report calls for continued training and education for law enforcement agencies to see that they are fully complying with the Act’s requirements. The report recognized the Travis County District Attorney’s office for its work with the Austin Police Department.

A defendant’s right to the information in a prosecutor’s file was spelled out in a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, and subsequent rulings. The case law can be vague, however. Even without intentional misconduct found in some cases, different levels of discovery existed in Texas counties. Uniform open file discovery is recognized as helping the criminal justice system to operate in a fair and efficient manner.

“Towards Transparent Justice,” is the followup to a report the two organizations issued in 2013, “Improving Discovery in Criminal Cases in Texas: How Best Practices Contribute to Greater Justice.”

The Michael Morton Act was passed as Senate Bill 1611 by Sen. Rodney Ellis and Sen. Robert Duncan. Rep. Senfronia Thompson was the principal sponsor in the House. It was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

Texas Appleseed’s mission is to promote social and economic justice for all Texans by leveraging the skills and resources of volunteer attorneys and other professionals to identify practical solutions to difficult systemic problems. Texas Defender Service is a nonprofit law firm that works for a better, more just criminal justice system, particularly in the state’s administration of capital punishment.

Locke Lord LLP, a Texas law firm, also worked on the report as a pro bono partner, as it did in the earlier report.

###

The report, “Towards More Transparent Justice,” is available in .pdf format

Leading Conservatives Urge Relief at Fifth Circuit for Scott Panetti

Today, leaders from the American conservative movement, including legal experts, former conservative policymakers, and thought leaders from across the United States, filed an amicus brief in support of Scott Panetti, a death row prisoner who has suffered from schizophrenia for three decades and whose case is pending before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The amici, some who support the death penalty and others who do not, “are united […] in their belief that the execution of Scott Panetti would serve no penological purpose and would in no way promote public safety. Rather than serving as a proportionate response to murder, the execution of Panetti would only undermine the public’s faith in a fair and moral justice system. And it would be a glaring and unwelcome example of excessive governmental power” (Amicus brief, p. 2).

The amici national conservative movement leaders are: Mark L. Earley, Sr., Former Attorney General of Virginia and Former President and CEO of Prison Fellowship USA; David A. Keene, Opinion Editor, The Washington Times; James C. Miller III, Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan; C. Preston Noell III, President, Tradition, Family, Property, Inc.; Patrick J. Nolan, Director, Center for Criminal Justice Reform, American Conservative Union Foundation; Harold D. Stratton, Jr., Former Attorney General of New Mexico; Patrick A. Trueman, Attorney at Law; and Richard A. Viguerie, Chairman, ConservativeHQ.com.

On December 3, 2014, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the execution of Mr. Panetti for a careful review of the issues surrounding his competency. Mr. Panetti’s illness, schizophrenia, was present for years prior to the crime, profoundly affected his trial, and appears to have worsened in recent years. Mr. Panetti has not had a competency evaluation in seven years.

On January 28, 2015, Mr. Panetti’s attorneys, Greg Wiercioch of University of Wisconsin Law School and Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service, filed their Supplemental Brief with the Fifth Circuit. The brief addresses a number of questions that the Fifth Circuit posed to the parties after it granted the stay of execution, including whether the federal district court erred in refusing to appoint counsel and approve funding for a mental health expert and an investigator. Counsel for Mr. Panetti have argued in the Supplemental Brief that the Fifth Circuit should order the district court to appoint counsel and provide resources so that counsel can present new evidence that Mr. Panetti is currently incompetent to be executed.

The Amicus Brief from National Conservative Leaders, filed today, can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1zBfmMO

Mr. Panetti’s Supplemental Brief at the Fifth Circuit, filed January 28, 2015, can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1DgPXbM

Mr. Panetti’s Opening Brief at the Fifth Circuit, filed November 30, 2014, can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1yLnj2S

Statement from Attorneys for Petitioners in Response to Today’s Ruling by Austin District Court that TDCJ Must Disclose to Attorneys the Source of Its Execution Drugs

(March 27, 2014) Today’s ruling ensures that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will do what the Texas Attorney General has repeatedly made clear that they must do – disclose the source of execution drugs, specifically compounded pentobarbital, to be used in upcoming executions.  The ruling signals – as other courts have done recently – that it is unacceptable to keep prisoners or the public in the dark regarding how executions are carried out – including the source of the drugs.

 The information will be disclosed under protective order, so that those facing imminent execution can have the information necessary to evaluate whether Texas’ execution process will violate their right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.  While we believe TDCJ is ultimately accountable to the people of Texas, and that transparency in this process is essential, the assessment of the broader public’s right to know will be made at a later date.

Secrecy surrounding the lethal injection process is, as today’s ruling shows, unacceptable. The condemned must have clear information about the drugs to be used, so that the courts can make an accurate assessment of the viability and constitutionality of any impending execution. In particular, pentobarbital for lethal injections now comes from compounding pharmacies, which are coming under increased scrutiny precisely because they are not adequately regulated. Indeed, executions carried out with compounded drugs in other states have led in some instances to prolonged and seemingly torturous executions.”

Maurie Levin, attorney for Petitioners

 

Statement from Attorneys for Duane Buck in Response to Today’s Ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

(November 20,2013) Today, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Duane Buck’s appeal for a new sentencing hearing free from racial bias. A statement from Mr. Buck’s attorneys is below, followed by background on the case. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you would like to speak with Mr. Buck’s attorneys or one of his many supporters calling for a new, fair sentencing hearing….READ MORE

More Than 100 Civil Rights Leaders, Elected Officials, Clergy, Former Prosecutors and Judges, Past ABA Presidents, and a Former TX Governor Call for New, Fair Sentencing for Duane Buck

NAACP Calls Mr. Buck’s Death Penalty Case a “Blatant Example of Racial Bias”

(Houston, Texas, March 20,2013) Today, 102 prominent individuals from Texas and throughout the country released a statement urging Texas officials to provide a new, fair sentencing hearing for Duane Buck. Mr. Buck is an African-American man who was condemned to death after his sentencing jury was told that he posed a future danger because of his race. The signatories write: “The State of Texas cannot condone any form of racial discrimination in the courtroom. The use of race in sentencing poisons the legal process and breeds cynicism in the judiciary. No execution should be carried out until the courts have a meaningful opportunity to address the evidence of fundamental injustice in Mr. Buck’s case. A new, fair sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck is absolutely necessary to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system.”….READ MORE

New Research: Harris County District Attorney’s Office Was Three Times More Likely to Seek Death for African Americans Like Duane Buck

Mr. Buck, Called a Future Danger Because He is Black, Files Petition Seeking New, Fair Sentencing Hearing

(Houston, Texas, March 13,2013) A significant new study finding racial bias in Harris County’s death penalty system was released today in an appeal filed by condemned prisoner, Duane Buck, in Harris County’s 208th Criminal District Court. Mr. Buck challenges his death sentence as an unconstitutional product of racial discrimination and presents research showing that at the time of his 1997 capital trial, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office was over three times more likely to seek the death penalty against African American defendants like himself, than against similarly-situated white defendants. The research also shows that Harris County juries were more than twice as likely to impose death sentences on African American defendants in cases like Mr. Buck’s, than on similarly situated white defendants….READ MORE

Texas Defender Service, Texas Appleseed Release Criminal Discovery Report Growing Call to Prevent Wrongful Convictions by Improving Texas’ Discovery Laws

(Austin, Texas, February 27,2013) As state lawmakers move to improve Texas’ criminal discovery statute to reduce the risk of wrongful convictions, Texas Defender Service and Texas Appleseed today released a timely report with new findings on Texas’ discovery practices and recommendations for reform.

“Texas’ discovery statute falls short of the best practices in criminal discovery adopted by the American Bar Association (ABA) and implemented in a majority of states,” said Kathryn Kase, Executive Director, Texas Defender Service.

“While some district attorney’s offices already recognize the shortcomings in Texas’ criminal discovery statute and have moved towards open file discovery, others provide little pre-trial discovery and some even require defendants to waive important statutory rights in exchange for open file discovery,” Kase said. “This lack of uniformity impacts access to justice.” …READ MORE

Executions and New Death Sentences Continue to Decline in Texas

(Houston, Texas, December 15, 2011) Executions in Texas fell to their lowest level in 15 years in 2011, and new death sentences remained at the all-time low level established last year, according to Texas Defender Service (TDS), a non-profit law firm that represents death row prisoners.

This year, Texas executed 13 prisoners, down from 17 executions in 2010 and a reduction from the all-time high of 40 executions in 2000. Texas gained only 8 new death sentences in 2011, the same number as in 2010, and down from the all-time high of 48 new death sentences in 1999.

“These numbers show that Texans have a growing discomfort with the chronic problems that infect the death penalty system, including the risk of convicting an innocent person, the costs, and its disproportionate use against people of color,” said Kathryn Kase, interim executive director of TDS. “Texas is part of a nationwide trend away from the death penalty.”…READ MORE

More than 60 Civil Rights and Faith Leaders, Elected Officials, Former Prosecutors, and Past ABA Presidents Call On Harris County D.A. To Provide Remedy in Case of Duane Buck

(Harris County, Texas , November 7, 2011) Prominent individuals from Texas and across the country are calling on Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos to remedy the sentence in a death penalty case involving the government’s reliance on the defendant’s race at sentencing. Duane Buck was scheduled to be executed on September 15, 2011, when the U.S. Supreme Court intervened. Today, the Court denied Mr. Buck’s petition for writ of certiorari.

At Mr. Buck’s capital murder trial in 1997, the State relied upon evidence that African-Americans are more likely to be dangerous as a basis for asking his jury to sentence him to death. District Attorney Lykos now has the discretion to remedy this error…READ MORE

Prosecutor In Case Where Government Relied On Race Testimony At Trial Urges Texas Officials To Stop Duane Buck’s Execution

(September 6, 2011) Today, a former Harris County Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted Duane Buck is urging state officials to halt Mr. Buck’s execution next week because “[n]o individual should be executed without being afforded a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race.” Linda Geffin, who served as second-chair prosecutor in the State of Texas vs. Duane Buck in 1997, sent a letter this morning to Governor Rick Perry, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos, urging them to intervene and stop Mr. Buck’s September 15 execution…READ MORE

Forensic Psychologist Banned from Making Mental Retardation Evaluations in TX Death Penalty Cases

(Austin, Texas, April 15, 2011) George C. Denkowski, a psychologist who used his own criteria to find many men eligible for the death penalty, was banned today from practicing forensic psychology in Texas. Denkowski’s methodology, which often used unaccepted diagnostic techniques of inflating IQ and adaptive behavior scores for reasons of lifestyle and culture during the evaluations of death row prisoners, had come under scrutiny by his peers. The Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists began investigating Denkowski’s methods after a complaint was filed by at least one of his colleagues alleging he misused psychological testing and inflated IQ scores…READ MORE

Victims, Jurors Urge Clemency for Tim Adams

(Austin, Texas, February 7, 2011) Attorneys for Tim Adams filed a clemency petition today urging the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to vote to spare Mr. Adams’ life and to ask Governor Rick Perry to commute his death sentence to life in prison without parole. Mr. Adams is an army veteran with no criminal history, not even an arrest, until he snapped and killed his son while planning his suicide in 2002. His execution is scheduled for February 22….READ MORE